Feature

Kiran Desai

Kiran Desai is the author of The Inheritance of Loss, the winner of the 2006 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. The novel, her second, is now available in paperback.

Herzog by Saul Bellow (Penguin, $15). The dark grapplings one associates with Russian authors transported to America, where they become hilarious viewed through the lens of college politics and batty girlfriends instead of peasant uprisings. And there’s the remarkable Bellow sentence.
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The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki (Vintage, $16). Tanizaki’s slow patience and his ability to do melodrama without being melodramatic (whereas I can only do melodrama by being melodramatic) makes me very jealous. The Makioka Sisters also has one of the most memorable last lines in literature: “Yukiko’s diarrhea persisted through the 26th, and was a problem on the train to Tokyo.”
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Voss by Patrick White (out of print). A quest to explore the Australian desert as a religious, a redemptive journey. White is called the Dostoyevsky of Australia, and it’s true his obsession with the subject of man nailed upon the cross is parallel. The intersection of this obsession with the colonial enterprise makes Voss a frightening book, still pertinent today.
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Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo (Grove, $11). Ghosts of the past never seem to be exorcised from Mexico—a country that seems to offer its citizens a constant horizon from which to depart to the surreal. The narrator begins to consider himself dead in his journey back to a feudal, ruthless Mexico, a deserted town populated by insistent phantoms.
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A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul (Vintage, $14). Naipaul was the first fiction writer, I think, to draw the lines between Africa, Asia, Latin America—to capture the relationship of the entire post-colonial world with the West. This particular book, with its bleak portrayal of how big wars pervert even the remotest places, changed the way I wanted to write about India. Perhaps no story should be seen in isolation.
Buy it at Amazon

Shame by Salman Rushdie (Picador, $14). Another book that continues to be pertinent. There’s a scene in which the American ambassador in Pakistan is telling someone that, well, the States must support a military dictatorship in Pakistan because of the problem across the border in Afghanistan. Rushdie has his finger on the pulse of something vitally true to the past of this region, to the present, and if things continue along, the future.
Buy it at Amazon

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