Broadening the landscape

Over at The Story Prize blog, I have a guest post up. Check it out here.

In presenting deeply conflicted characters, and sometimes unpleasant characters, I guess, in hindsight, I was looking for ways to broaden the emotional landscape of much of so-called contemporary Indian American fiction—though perhaps more accurately I was reacting to what felt like a strangled emotional territory. And also to make, in my own small way, a larger claim on the universality of experience, and that it doesn’t have to born out of exhausted tropes— the newly arrived immigrant, the clash of cultures, the relatively narrow emotional bandwidth of adapting to American middle class life.


GOOD INDIAN GIRLS

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In twelve startling and vividly imagined stories, Ranbir Singh Sidhu overturns the lives of ordinary Indians living in America to bring us a bold debut collection, Good Indian Girls.

“Achingly merciless, London-born author Sidhu’s 12 short stories sharply delineate the edges of identity and sanity…These haunting tales simultaneously attract and repel, enchant and shatter…Sidhu creates inscrutable characters inhabiting bewildering circumstances. Smart, provocative and poignantly disturbing, this collection, the author’s U.S. debut, signals a writer to watch.” —Kirkus (Starred Review)

“Though weird and eccentric, Sidhu’s stories are also empathetic and refreshingly free of the clichés of immigrant narratives. He manages to portray his characters as uniquely Indian without losing sight of their individuality, offering small, piercing looks into the humanity that resides in every situation and person, no matter how strange.”—Publishers Weekly

“With adeptly drawn characters, Sidhu demonstrates a dexterous grasp of the human psyche, while the prevalence of dark twists displays his love of the fatalistic. This propensity for the morose will be off-putting for some but is sure to please those with a taste for black humor and shades of the diabolical.”—Booklist

“‘Border Song,’… finds the transformative grace in grief and a closure of sorts that eludes characters in ‘The Order of Things,’ a masterpiece of a story that could have you marvelling at Sidhu’s incisive and distinctive perspective for the Punjab experience of violence, exile and estrangement—both within India and abroad.”—Outlook India

Whenever I pick up a story by Ranbir Sidhu, I feel as though I’ve been released from the cedarwood closet of literature into the fresh air of active creation; as though I’d been fitted with brand-new high-tech earphones picking up an infinity of eloquent microphones cleverly scattered around the world. The pops and squeaks of new life crackle in my ears, and even when they’re threatening or saddening, I’m inevitably overcome by the hope that they’ll never stop.”—Harry Mathews, author of My Life in CIA, Cigarettes and The Journalist

“Ranbir Sidhu is imaginative, with a dry, sly wit, very intelligent, and owns a wicked sensibility, all of which makes his fiction smart, daring, sensitive to human perversity, and keen in its observations. He is one of the most compelling and sophisticated younger writers today; and his writing is beautiful and entertaining.”—Lynne Tillman, author of American Genius, A Comedy and No Lease On Life

“[Sidhu’s] work takes risks, is often daring and imaginative, and I appreciate the intelligence he brings to his craft. I look forward to reading his new collection of stories, Good Indian Girls.”—Edward Albee, author of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

“The first-person narrator of ‘The Good Poet of Africa’ despises poetry, repays compassion with insult, and enjoys lying to children. but, by story’s end, the moral universe will be turned on its head, and the reader will empathize with Ranbir Sidhu’s loathsome protagonist. This is writing of uncommon assurance and skill.”—Jeet Thayil, author of Narcopolis

“In twelve vivid stories, Ranbir Singh Sidhu paints tender, uproarious and incredibly insightful portraits of Indians living in America.” —Barnes & Noble Review


Launch of The Happy Hypocrite, Issue 6

Launch of The Happy Hypocrite – Freedom, Issue 6
edited by Lynne Tillman

21 September 2013, 7.00pm onwards

Artists Space
55 Walker Street
New York
NY 10013

Readings by:
Yasmine El Rashidi
Ranbir Singh Sidhu
Robin Coste Lewis
Sarah Resnick

Followed by a discussion with Lynne Tillman and participants.

To purchase this title please visit the Book Works website.

This new issue of The Happy Hypocrite challenges the restraining notions found in art and writing about who and what can and cannot speak. What can and cannot be said or thought. In part a response to Kafka – to that which we don’t know has damaged us – freedom is presented as an important and urgent concept, and a complicated word, in which and beside which hypocrisy also resides. (Hypocrisy can be construed as a freedom). The Happy Hypocrite offers its pages to ingenious fictional, nonfictional, and visual responses to the various meanings of ‘freedom’.

Contributions from Gregg Bordowitz, Paul Chan, Gabriel Coxhead, Lydia Davis, Yasmine El Rashidi, Chloé Cooper Jones, James Jennings, Allison Katz, Robin Coste Lewis, Craig Owens, Sarah Resnick, Ranbir Singh Sidhu, Abdellah Taïa, an interview between Lynne Tillman and Thomas Keenan, a cover by Susan Hiller, and archival material from Paranoids Anonymous Newsletter.


GOOD INDIAN GIRLS gets STARRED review in Kirkus!

Picture 1Achingly merciless, London-born author Sidhu’s 12 short stories sharply delineate the edges of identity and sanity… These haunting tales simultaneously attract and repel, enchant and shatter, evoking the ambiguous relationships between past and present, others and self… Deftly sifting through a range of less-often-visited emotions, Sidhu creates inscrutable characters inhabiting bewildering circumstances… Smart, provocative and poignantly disturbing, this collection, the author’s U.S. debut, signals a writer to watch.

 

Whole review here (paywall).

 


From an Encyclopedia of Fictional Characters: John Fante’s Arturo Bandini

A magazine asked me to write a freeform encyclopedia entry for Arturo Bandini a while back, which I happily did; but then they changed the format on me, to something considerably more dull and straightforward, and wanted me to do my work over again. This I didn’t do, and they let it slide and never paid me. So I’m posting it here, because I thought it was rather good, just as it was.

Arturo Bandini

“Ah Camilla! When I was a kid back home in Colorado it was Smith and Parker and Jones who hurt me with their hideous names, called me Wop and Dago and Greaser, and their children hurt me, just as I hurt you tonight. They hurt me so much I could never become one of them, drove me to books, drove me within myself, drove me to runaway from that Colorado town, and sometimes, Camilla, when I see their faces I feel the hurt all over again, the old ache there, and sometimes I am glad they are here, dying in the sun, uprooted, tricked by their heartlessness, the same faces, the same set, hard mouths, faces from my home town, fulfilling the emptiness of their lives under a blazing sun.”

Ask the Dust, John Fante

Not an immigrant himself, but the child of immigrants, pugilistic, angry, often starving, a wordsmith of an underbelly Los Angeles, a chronicler of a dark side of the moon city in the thirties, passionate, purposeless, bigoted, supremely egotistical, and cut through with more self-loathing than quartz in a California schist, this is Arturo Bandini, John Fante’s magnificent creation and alter-ego in his novel Ask The Dust. He steps onto the stage like many an unlettered peasant torn between two continents. “You are a coward, Bandini,” he says of himself, “a traitor to your soul, a feeble liar before your weeping Christ. This is why you write, this is why it would be better if you died.” Openly modeled on Fante’s own younger self, Bandini is a soul in agony, driven to prove himself, too poor to be a successful drunk, too self-conscious to bed a hooker, and almost choking on his own self-regard. Much as Fante remained a writer’s writer for most of his life, valiantly obscure until he was championed by Charles Bukowski, Bandini is an outsider’s outsider, his immigrant’s rage more closely twinned to Dostoyevsky’s murderous protagonist Raskolnikov. But unlike Raskolnikov, or many of the other deadbeat literary anti-heroes that bear the mark of Bandini’s paternity, there is a wild, unstoppered energy to Arturo, a lifeforce that plunges him headlong into the world, even if it’s often a world of his own hopeless dreams and unreasonable desires. His faults are the follies of too much passion, of caring too deeply, of youth in the moment of explosion, and as much as he is a mirror to torment, he is equally a mirror to a more brilliant world, whose cracked shards shimmer ever so briefly with the grace of a life lived to its very utmost.


Reinventing Michel Houellebecq and the Knitting Circles of the Future

Or my take on a tweaked title:

The Possibility of a Purl

Michel Houellebecq‘s unrelenting examination of the erotic possibilities of knitting circles in the distant future, when the only pleasure that humanity has left is the deadening and never consummated sexual charge of watching us knit each other’s clothes.

Check out others at MobyLives.


Heroes for our Troubled Times

outlook

From Outlook India by Shalini Mukerji:

“My father said that in India they gave names to the dark space between the stars. It was the darkness that was novel, scarce, that seemed brilliant against so much light. Sometimes I would find my father late at night in the living room, the lights all off, only the clock glowing on the vcr. He would say that it was such a relief, this darkness, this not being able to see. Only years later did I learn what it was he was hoping not to see,” remarks the floating narratorial voice in Sidhu’s Neanderthal Tongues. A powerful, suggestive story, it sculpts darkness from sparks of violence and finds the primal, atavistic expression of terror, one that transcends boundaries, language and time.Hero of the Nation, another disquieting story, explores the dynamics of caring for an ailing (grand)parent and how each member in the family scrabbles for air, a calming breath. Among these stories of dislocation and fragments of lives when time seems out of joint, The Discovery could have you thinking of Toba Tek Singh—Manto’s heartbreak about the madness of Partition, for it’s about a man who can’t make sense of the world as it splinters into ‘notcountries’ and ‘notwords’. The Border Song, among the lightest pieces in this collection, finds the transformative grace in grief and a closure of sorts that eludes characters in The Order of Things, a masterpiece of a story that could have you marvelling at Sidhu’s incisive and distinctive perspective for the Punjab experience of violence, exile and estrangement—both within India and abroad. Seeking in each story a ‘correct pronoun’ for our splintering selves and a ‘new grammar’ for fugitive histories, Sidhu seems to articulate Edvard Munch’s The Scream—that “infinite scream coursing through nature”, which the Norwegian expressionist sensed at sunset and painted as part of his ‘Frieze of Life’ series.


Protected: The City Painted, part two

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After the election: crisis postponed, not averted.

An update to the article published in Open Magazine:

Last night, the conservative, pro-bailout and pro-austerity New Democracy party won the elections, but not decisively enough to have an outright majority. To be able to form a government, they will need to form a coalition with one of their opponents. The second vote-getter, and close second in the elections, was the upstart, radical left party Syriza. It’s leader, Alexis Tsipras, has ruled out any coalition with any pro-bailout party, and so a coalition will likely be formed with PASOK, and one of the other, smaller, leftist parties.

While the election of New Democracy averts the immediate crisis of Greece leaving the euro, it in no way changes the long-term picture. The requirements of Europe’s bailout haven’t been fully implemented, and some of the most severe cuts are yet to come. These will be very difficult to get passed into law, and if they are passed, will likely cause a violent reaction on the streets in the coming months. But the larger picture is more disturbing. Even if the cuts are implemented, Greece will still ultimately be unable to live up to its commitments. It will not be able to pay back its debts in full, even at the current levels where much have been forgiven, and it will not be able to grow its economy effectively under the burden of such severe austerity measures.

The reaction of international markets to the Greek election struck me as quite rational. An initial sense of optimism because the immediate crisis was averted, followed by a pullback and a dose of reality, because even with the election of the conservatives, there is no obvious way forward for Greece within the euro. We’ll be exactly here again a year or so from now, if not sooner, and between now and that time, Greece will continue to suffer. The only chance that a deeper crisis can be averted is if Germany and the rest of Europe acts proactively with real stimulus measures designed to actually grow Greece’s (and Europe’s) economy. I’m not holding my breath.


Zombie highways, and other features of the Greek crisis

From last week’s issue of Open Magazine, my take on the (then) imminent Greek elections:

The highway from the airport is eerily empty. It’s mid-afternoon in the middle of the week, and there are fewer cars than on highways in a California desert at the quietest daylight hour. Another unsettling sight are the billboards. From the airport to the city, except one, all are blank. Some of them drip with papery fragments of old ads. It looks like a set for a zombie movie where everyone has died except me. Office parks and foreign factories line the highway’s edge, but most appear closed. The Ikea parking lot is empty.

Read the whole story here.


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