The “Lost” Chapter of John Jourdain

Read an excerpt below from the new story. The whole work is in the current issue of Conjunctions — on newsstands today.

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THE ‘LOST’ CHAPTER OF JOHN JOURDAIN

Scholars of Seventeenth Century literature of the sea have yet to fully take up cudgels in the debate on the veracity of the purported “lost” chapter of John Jourdain’s journal. In the published account (as reprinted in the venerable Hakluyt Society edition of 1905) of his visit to the island nation of K., The Journal of John Jourdain, 1608-1617, Describing his Experiences in Arabia, India, the Malay Archipelago and Lands Nearby, Jourdain wrote scathingly, describing K. as “hotte, uglie, and wythoute even those accomadations anye beggar mite finde agreeable.”

Little more was said for some two hundred years, the location of K. left a mystery, which it remains to this day, and the subject thought of little interest; until, inside an old seaman’s chest abandoned in a Kent attic, were discovered the yellowed pages of what appeared to be the entire original manuscript, which included the never before seen “lost” chapter. This seaman’s curiosity was passed among a group of self-described ‘enthusiasts’ for many years, and has only recently entered the broader realm of scholarly interest.

Though many consider it a forgery, the fact remains that the handwriting matches verified contemporary samples from John Jourdain, and the spelling matches his own quite unique form, which meandered among possibilities as much as he meandered across the globe. That the seaman John Jourdain, or his original publisher, would want to suppress this version seems more than likely, as it touches upon topics that might well have been considered inflammatory in its age: the hot-blooded whimsy of a traveler obviously affected either by fever or alcohol or, as is suggested in the account, other substances. As such, it can placed next to Cyrano de Bergerac’s account of his journey to the moon or the adventures of Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelhausen’s creation Simplicissimus in his flights of unfettered imagination.

But such poetical whimsy from so otherwise as obtuse a seaman as Jourdain seems unlikely, a fact that the considerable number of supporters of the veracity of the lost chapter never fail to point out. The weight of testimony on both sides of the argument thus stands quite strongly, and the debate, as noted above, has only begun to be argued among scholars and the more learned professionals of the sea. In the meantime, it is up to the reader to decide for him or herself as to the credibility of events, places, and individuals described.

A Mostt Curiose Sojerne inn the Landes of K.

by John Jourdain

Att my cominge aland upon an Unnamed Shore I found the Kinge and his Unkle both together, with many Others; of whome I demanded Leave to rest for several Daies for the Heate had strucke myself and my companions alsoe siche that wee knewe not some among us our verie Names and walked the Deckes like Ghosts unto ourselves and unto each one the other; all of us terriblie affrighted by the casualtie to our Common Senses. At one time I would calle my Chief mate by the Name of the most common Seeman, even of the Boy, and he would looke att me as though I had become one of the verie Natives that had soe affrighted us manie Daies before on the Ilandes wee did lande upon. At another time the entyre Crewe would not knowe me and calle me by siche strange Names and speake with siche curios Tonges that I guessed not who I myself was, holding the Beliefe that they who knewe me not knewe some larger Truthe. The Heate was the verie Devile Himself for it would leade oure Sense one way and when we felt the strength of Certaintie it would knocke all wee knewe downe and wee were but required to Build up again oure Worlde from Senses recentlie attacked. And then when again wee felt a common Beliefe growe among us, that wee each knewe the Name of each other, that wee knewe our owne Selves, the Devil in the Cloake of the Heate would come at us againe and knocke at our Certainties and Knowledge. Sailing aboute like this wee were at the edge of Great Blows and Violence wiche, had notte we landed at the Unnamed Coaste and there mette with soe kindlie a Kinge, wee would without doubt have become the Servantes of the Evile One in his Designes upon this Worlde.


A “Lost” Chapter Found…

Very happy to report that my story The “Lost” Chapter of John Jourdain will appear in the upcoming Fall issue of Conjunctions.

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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.


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