HAZARDS, writing back no. 32

Amherst November,1864?

Dear Emily,

It is November, you write, which ‘always seemed to me the Norway of the year.’  No, no it feels like November, but March has come after an extended Scandinavia. Soon it will be gone. Every day is one minute better, brighter, more human. Each dies a little less. In a late 18th Century November my new Jacobin friend walked the night hills between stunted trees, full falling through combes all the way to the harbouring sea. Like water. I did it too, during this recent Finland; through coldly forecast drizzle, upwards into heavying cloud but peaked in the windworn scrub of a hidden iron age, only for the clouds to part on a little Mediterranean. For the hill and it’s seductive combes to rush at me, bent tree sentinels to be recognised and postcards from the cradles of civilisation to arrive. All the tropical months. STC was no Jacobin but a romancer of the running combes and their conjurings, spied upon by Arctic circles of the establishment mind. E. and I walked miles and miles of mud and stone in visions of poesy. Without official confirmations. Within warming words. So it’s possible, but I prefer the tropical calendar which returns my self; body and breath, a ‘spacious and untold’ mindfulness, to me. Places and times where ‘noons’ are ‘sterner’, ‘sundowns’ properly ‘laconic’. Looking forward to Mesopotamia,

g.

Fruitstore 22.iii.2010

james salter; readers revenge & the sixth sense

Mandelstam,_Cukovsky,_Livshiz_&_Annenkov_1914_Karl_Bulla

James & Kay Salter         –         Osip Mandelshtam

In Life is Meals A Food Lover’s Book of Days, by James and Kay Salter [Knopf 2006], there is the following entry for the 29th May: 

THE SIX SENSES

One cannot think well, love well, slep well, if one has not dined well

VIRGINIA WOOLF

Brillat-Savarin recognised the five basic senses -taste, touch, hearing, sight and smell- but he  believed there was a sixth sense: physical desire, a unique and distinctly French idea.

Everything subtle and ingenious about the first five senses, he wrote, was due to this sixth, “to the desire, the hope, the gratitude that spring from sexual union.”

Well, call me Anglo-Saxon, but BS is a bore if he doesn’t understand the mutual implication of desire in the five senses. Desire uncompromised and desire realised.

I prefer Osip Mandelshtam’s notion of a sixth sense, mooted during his journeying to Mount Ararat:

Ashtarak. “I have cultivated in myself a sixth sense, an “Ararat” sense: the sense of attraction to a mountain.

Now, no matter where fate carry me, this sense already has a speculative existence and will remain with me.

[p. 57 Journey to Armenia Next Editions 1980. Orig. Puteshestviye v Armeniyu Zvezda 1933.]

Do we have to choose? Does a mountain sense include desire etc. or desire include “the sense of attraction to a mountain”? Then again, what is it with mediators and authorisation?

A mountain sense is my candidate because it adds something distinct and dimensional to the core senses in ways that desire doesn’t. I write that having climbed Shatrunjaya, ‘the mount that realises all desires’, more than once…

NB See my Note ‘js; reader’s revenge & last night 2006’ on the entanglements and ambivalence of these things.

puttermesser is dead; cynthia foster wallace (nee) ozick is 92

Cynthia Ozick’s The Puttermesser Papers was published in 1999 in the UK and short-listed for the IMPAC Award (Updated Apr2018) aka the Dublin Lit Award. I see that when David Foster Wallace read his HB copy he noted some of the same words [as news of his papers arriving at the HRC Texas reveal] as I did. Tellurian, for example. I’m posting two images that speak for themselves and a light-weight review I wrote for The New Statesman during a divertingly busy year. Within a few months, the tanks had re-entered occupied territories shattering any last delusions/illusions.

I remain a fierce reader and admirer of Ozick’s work, despite her quixotic blindness towards/repellant views about Palestinian dispossession -which obviously undermines her fondness for exception and the you-can’t-be-entirely-serious rhetoric around “winners”. I was re-reading The Messiah of Stockholm in late December 2008 [trapped again, wrestling with her singular sentences], just before the white phosphorus went in to Gaza’s already besieged schools and, even now, am re-reading the essays collected in The Din in the Head [2006]. Fortunately, the cold obscenity of what she wrote in the same year about Rachel Corrie’s Journals (link to myth-busting re RC not CO’s toxic piece) is not included.

Ozick is a curious and extreme instance of a vexatious problem and in posting this I’m forcing myself to come back to it, soon (not yet; Apr 2018!). Nothing I say will reduce the brilliance (in every sense and so its own limit) of this novel and others because writerly singularity outplays historical anomaly however grotesque the views. At least, on the billionth loop around it, that is what I feel, but I know the ice is very thin hereabouts (hmmm and hmmm again and again). Meanwhile, roll on the day that nakba-denial is also a crime and when universal crimes already constituted are actually prosecuted.

Puttermesser Paper, Cynthia Ozick

by Guy Mannes-Abbott

July 1999

Like an eager parliamentarian, I should confess my ‘interests’ in this new novel of Cynthia Ozick’s. My 7 year old cat is named after Ruth Puttermesser -lawyer, Mayoress and murderee- the heroine of these stories. I’ve also got form, having greeted the publication of her 1993 collection of essays What Henry James Knew with extravagant polemic in these same pages. I was championing her astonishing stylistic precision, singular appetites and general awkward brilliance. I don’t retract a word.

If you don’t know Ozick, you’ll find an infectious deep mining and celebration of writing, ranging from the thunder of James and Bellow to the lightning of Bruno Schultz and JM Coetzee, in her essays. In them she animates the Classics and invests her fascination with mystical Judaism to great effect, just as she does in her short and long fiction. All of this is apparent in The Puttermesser Papers which, if you do know Ozick, you’ll recognise as a cycle of stories from the last 20 years. The Puttermesser Papers earnt substantial praise when it was published in the United States in 1997 and was nominated for the 1999 IMPAC Award. Such recognition came late to Ozick and remains incomplete while novels like The Messiah of Stockholm are still unavailable here.

So, what is it about Ozick? Well, it’s difficult to convey the astonishing fecundity of this novel in summary. There’s just so much in it, for one thing; all condensed into a swiftly flowing stream of exquisitely placed words. But this is not writing for swooners because Ozick means what she writes. She’s serious, high minded and literary in that sense and yet her’s is a gleeful kind of seriousness.

We first meet Ruth Puttermesser as a 46 year old lawyer in the New York Mayor’s office. She’s insistent that her married lover, Morris Rappaport, allows her to finish Plato’s Theaetetus before they have sex. The previous night she’d read him a line of Socrates, defending the enquirer’s mind “for being so eager to know what was happening in the sky that he could not see what lay at his feet.” This is typical of Ozick; to begin a story with a quote like that, but also for the quote to be one expressive of unbounded yearning.

Puttermesser goes on to lose her job unfairly and to conjure a female golem into being who becomes her peculiarly loyal public servant; successfully campaigning for Puttermesser to become Mayor. As Mayor she establishes a paradisal realm in Manhattan for a while until Xanthippe the golem does what golems do and runs amok. So with Puttermesser’s reputation and the city in ruins Xanthippe is dispatched back to the earth from where she came.

We next meet Puttermesser in her mid-50s as she falls in and out of love, through a filter of the life and work of George Eliot which is, I promise, no less vivid for that.  Eventually we witness the aged Puttermesser being murdered and then raped, in that order, after which she describes life in paradise -where the quality of timelessness proves bitterly disappointing.

Ozick’s insistent awkwardness is her great attraction for me. She does things writers of fiction are not supposed to do, like giving dismissive summaries of plot which “must be recorded as lightly and swiftly as possible.” She also tells you things in a spirit of enthusiastic sharing, so you end this book knowing all about golems, for instance. There is the Prague golem as a protector of the Jews but also the earlier mystical golem conjured out of nothing but unformed matter. This latter quality of blooming impossibility is also her work’s great strength.

Puttermesser embodies notions of Jewish as well as American redemptiveness and utopianism. Ozick writes, “Puttermesser craved. Her craving was to cleanse the wilderness … of injustice”. She is encouraged in this by Xanthippe’s notes saying things like; “No reality greater than thought.” She is the kind of retired Mayoress whose tea bags come with Nietzschean aphorisms saying “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.” Before retiring she’d dreamt about appointing PB Shelley, to honour his principle that “poets are the legislators of mankind.”

These are not exactly belly laughs but there are plenty of smiles in The Puttermesser Papers. However both Ozick and her heroine are yearners for ideas and a better world. Yet if this book is an embodiment of that yearning, it is a kind of visceral, sexy tango of yearning -strange as it sounds. It’s this crazy exuberance along with her singular style that makes me recommend this book to you in the way that I would recommend Kafka or Calvino, Jean Rhys or Virginia Woolf.

anne carson; cage a swallow can’t you but you can’t swallow a cage can you: a sonnet sequence for roni horn


R. Currie and Anne Carson photo T Oelfke

Cage a Swallow/Swallow a Cage was performed twice on November 6th at the Whitney, during their exhibition of Roni Horn AKA Roni Horn. It’s part of the work that AC did during her Residency at RH’s Library of Water in Stykkisholmur, Iceland.

 

I couldn’t make it, have been requesting a recording of it for some time and now it’s up on their site here (UPDATED 2Mar2018).

The page includes stills and a downloadable mp3 of about 25 mins, which may not be there forever…

Thanks, you Whitneys…

UPDATE 17.xi.2010

Transcription of the event follows; Continue reading “anne carson; cage a swallow can’t you but you can’t swallow a cage can you: a sonnet sequence for roni horn”

revolution every day; elias khoury interview 2005

Elias Khoury’s Yalo was one of my stones stepped in 2009 [see Categories] and it’s on the long-list for The Independent’s Foreign Fiction Prize, announced here. Competition is stiff, needless to say, but I hope it wins.

I posted a link to the interview-based piece I did around the seminal publication in English of Bab-al shams [Gate Of the Sun] in 2005 -the first of its kind in English- and now post it below. Gate of the Sun is a monumental work of fiction; a brilliant creative achievement which is both important and highly accessible. That is, it’s so compelling that there’s no excuse for not realising the necessity of reading it.

In the US Archipelago Books is promising two new Khoury titles; a novel called White Masks in 2010 and another novel As Though She Were Sleeping in 2011. There are already two more works of fiction published in the US by university presses. I’m looking forward to the day when his critical writing becomes available to the English-speaking world.

Wherever you start with Khoury [an earlier novel, Little Mountain Collins Harvill 1990 is out of print] you’ll be hungry for more.

The Independent

Elias Khoury: Myth and memory in the Middle East

Lebanese writer Elias Khoury is one of the leading lights of Arab literature. Guy Mannes-Abbott meets him

Friday, 18 November 2005

Elias Khoury is the kind of writer who wins the Nobel Prize for literature to sneers from the English-speaking world. When the Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz was greeted in this way in 1989, the late scholar and activist Edward Said remarked sagely that “Arabic is by far the least known and the most grudgingly regarded” of major world literatures. At the same time, Said pointed to the future, celebrating the promising achievements of Khoury – a “brilliant figure” – and Mahmoud Darwish: a Lebanese and a Palestinian writer respectively.

The word “brilliant” is etched across Khoury’s new novel, Gate of the Sun (Harvill Secker, £17.99) and on my mind when we meet in London for lunch. His reputation as a novelist, critic, commentator, editor and academic with real political commitment is formidable. Khoury came to prominence in Lebanon – and therefore the Arab world – in the mid-1970s. Still in his twenties, he was working in the Palestine Research Centre, editing the literary pages of its journal and writing his second novel, Little Mountain, which re-worked his experiences in the Lebanese civil war of 1975-1990 almost as they happened.

“It’s meaningless!” he thunders, when I ask him what it means to be Lebanese. Then, speaking rapidly, he develops a characteristic response which ends with a modified repetition of the phrase. In between, he sketches a history of Lebanon’s many civil wars since the 19th century, describes similarities in dialect and cuisine between Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, and asserts that “I feel more Beiruti. If you are a Beiruti, you are an Arab. You are open to all types of cultures, and to innovating in the Arabic culture at the same time. You are in the Lebanese dilemmas and you are so near to Palestine”. So you feel “that the Palestinian tragedy is part of your life.”

By this he means sheer physical proximity – “It’s a matter of 100 kilometres” – but also that he has grown up with the Palestinian refugees who arrived in 1948, the year of his birth. All of this is the subject of the epic Gate of the Sun, which has already been cheered in Arabic, Hebrew and French editions during the seven years it took to arrive in this elegant English translation by Humphrey Davies.

Gate of the Sun, or Bab El Shams, is an attempt to render the Palestinian nakba – or “catastrophe” – of 1948 and its tortuous aftermath. Specifically, it contains the stories and lives of people whose ancestral villages in Galilee, now in northern Israel, were “wiped out of existence”, forcing them into desperate flight by land and sea to Lebanon.

“Actually,” says Khoury, “I was writing a story about Galilee, because it’s in-between” and home to many Palestinian writers, including Darwish. “I was not writing a history of Palestine. Of course, many ask why it was a Lebanese not a Palestinian who wrote this story. I really don’t know. What I know is from the experience of the Palestinians I worked with,” he explains.

The nakba of 1948 was “a shame, a total defeat; it’s a disaster, a real personal disaster. There are stories here about the woman who left her child, about a woman who killed her child. So it’s not easy to talk about. The Palestinians did not realise, and if they realised they did not believe that this could happen, because actually this is something unbelievable.”

Khoury had the initial impulse to turn stories he heard in refugee camps into a memorial narrative in the 1970s. He spent much of the 1980s gathering “thousands of stories” before writing this extraordinarily accomplished novel. Gate of the Sun is essentially a love story set in a world turned upside down. It involves a dying fighter called Yunis and his wife Naheeleh, an internal refugee in Galilee, whose relationship forms during stolen visits across the border to a cave renamed Bab El Shams. The cave is “a house, and a village, and a country”, and “the only bit of Palestinian territory that’s been liberated”. It produces a “secret nation”: a family of seven children who have borne four more Yunises by the end of the book.

However, this is no parable. For Khoury, “Yunis, of course, is a hero. He used to go to Galilee, he used to cross the borders… but in the end we discover that he was nothing, that Naheeleh was this whole story; her relationship with the children, and how she actually defended life. In the refugee camps I met hundreds of women like Naheeleh. Then it’s no more a metaphor. It’s very realistic.”

This reality is the “revolution of actual work carried out by our mothers”, which the poet Mourid Barghouti articulates so well in his memoir I Saw Ramallah. It is “realised every day, without fuss and without theorising”.

Khoury’s story of love and survival is told by Khaleel, an untrained “doctor” at a redundant hospital in Shatila refugee camp. Shatila was the site of a notorious massacre in 1982, overseen by an Israeli army commanded by Ariel Sharon. During the months that Khaleel attends to Yunis’s lifeless body, he stitches together his honorary father’s stories in order to bring him out of coma. Gradually, Khaleel’s own story emerges: of his love for a female fighter called Shams, and his experience of the camp massacre.

If this evokes the Thousand and One Nights, in which Scheherazade tells stories to keep herself alive, it’s the structure and act of telling that are important. Edward Said praised Khoury’s innovations in Little Mountain and the author takes the compliment, but says that “when I came to write Little Mountain, I discovered that real experimentation is not intellectual”. Instead, you have to “go deep to your own experience”.

In 1967, aged 19, Khoury travelled alone to Amman to join the Palestinian resistance after Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza. In 1970 he finished his studies in Paris before writing his fictional debut, a nouveau roman. In 1975 he fought for revolutionary change in Lebanon, his disillusionment captured elegantly by Little Mountain. These years involved “a very deep engagement about what is justice, what is a human being and what is life”.

It is this experimenting with life, combined with such testing experience of it, that makes his writing less “experimental” in the literary sense than naturalistic. Crucially, he developed a faith in oral narratives; encompassing both the colloquial forms used in telling a story, and the non-classical type of Arabic that such stories are told in. “I don’t think there is any story we live from the beginning to the end,” he says. In this novel, “the structure is oral telling – openness. That is, you begin a story, you enter another story, and then you come back”.

In the novel, Khaleel complains about fugitive “snatches” of story that he’s struggling to remember and narrate. He blames the influence of tarab, the ecstasy generated by the rhythms of Arabic music and – by extension – poetry for the sidelining of descriptive skills. Khoury elaborates: “It’s repetitive, but every time you repeat, you change. Also in prose you create music, repeating the same story three, four, five times, and every time it’s a very slight difference. This is the Thousand and One Nights, this is the musicality of the oral and this is tarab.”

One of the results is that it produces “suspense from a totally different perspective. If you want to know what will happen to Yunis, he will die, so close the book and go home; but it’s another type of suspense.” It is this rhythmic accumulation of story that makes Gate of the Sun so unexpectedly compelling. It’s also this democratic form of telling which has enabled Khoury to approach the subject; to piece together fragments into a masterfully executed novel. The resulting mosaic of suggestive truths complicates any simple metaphorical reading while returning over and over again to discrete realities.

“Reality,” he summarises, “can become metaphor or a myth. But a myth, if it will become a reality, it’s the most savage thing in the world. The Israeli project is to make a myth into reality. This is the problem.”

Khoury’s iteration of inconvenient realities is rigorously ethical. It is there in his responsibility towards Jewish history as well as to Palestinian dispossession, and in his novel’s investigation of love’s work. It informs his efforts to modernise Arabic by means of colloquial speech, and his commitment to grassroots democratic movements in Lebanon and Syria.

Khoury’s experience of life has generated a sophisticated optimism. He takes the long view, having resettled in the ancestral home in Beirut from which he was driven in the 1970s. He is both worldly and warm, a man of heart as well as passionate intellect. Nothing is off-limits and he answers every question fully even though we have, literally, eaten into preparation time for an evening reading. Before parting, though, I must ask the author of Gate of the Sun about the theory that “to narrate is to return”.

“No, I think that to narrate is to reconstruct, to appropriate but,” he breaks into a story from one of his novels before resuming, “one of the biggest, er, pleasures of the Palestinians was to regain your name, to be Palestinians. And once you regain your name – and I think this is narration, to regain the name – then you prepare yourself to go: that is, to create a Palestine, not to return to a Palestine which was.” These paradoxes and “pleasures” find potent resolution in Gate of the Sun. It’s a novel that will outlive us.

Biography: Elias Khoury

Elias Khoury was born in Lebanon in 1948, to an Orthodox Christian family in the East Beirut district known as Little Mountain. As a sociology undergraduate, he volunteered for Fatah, the military wing of the Palestinian revolution. During the 1970s he worked in PLO organisations in Beirut, and helped found the journal al-Karmel with the poet Mahmoud Darwish. He speaks Arabic, French, English, Syriac and “a little Hebrew”. Author of 11 novels, four non-fiction books and three plays, he also scripted a film of Gate of the Sun. The novel is published by Harvill Secker this month. Khoury is now an editor with the Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar and Global Distinguished Professor at New York University. He lives with his wife in his great-grandfather’s house on Little Mountain.

james salter; readers revenge & last night 2006

James Salter photo

I wonder if anyone really cares or wants to linger with what Norman Mailer thought or wrote about sex, nor what any of the Jonathans haven’t thought or written about it.

I’m intrigued however by the way that Kate Roiphe’s much-blogged piece in the NYT left out any mention of the great and complex James Salter’s thoughts and writings about it. Of course, it’s because he doesn’t fit the schema; old existential roisterers and silly braggers vs new pseudo-feminised feyboys/merchants of self-mortification.

The key line is this one comparing the old with the weary:

“In contrast to their cautious, entangled, ambivalent, endlessly ironic heirs, there is something almost romantic in the old guard’s view of sex: it has a mystery and a power, at least. It makes things happen.”

Roiphe’s not-mentioning Salter maps too neatly over the way that his many non-mentioners perceive him as nothing more than a 2-D ClassicMan served in pricey after/over dinner sauce. Or as marginal old-school, perhaps? Instead, sticking with the schema, I think that Salter knows that sex can make things happen, but that those ‘things’ involve plenty of entangling ambivalence too, no? [Who isn’t weary of cautious irony?]

Salter’s non-readers also think of him as typical New Yorker product when, just for instance, he was far too much, too singular, too difficult for the New Yorker for decades while producing brilliantly crystalline short stories [hunt down Dusk and other Stories]. The same non-readers managed to dampen the fact that Salter’s fiction is now in Penguin Modern Classics where it belongs [amongst books not to be approached with cliché, at least] and what isn’t is well published in the UK in Picador paperback.

So, while for many years it was hard to get at or read his classics; A Sport and a Pastime [published in the UK 20 years after the US!], Light Years and Burning the Days, it no longer is. At the same time, his almost impossible to find earlier or less concentratedly Salteresque/Salterine books, The Hunters and Solo Days are now also in print. Easily available, not to be missed.

Readers can get one over critical and consensual incuriosity and, frankly, ignorance, by reading books like Solo Faces and forming their own judgment on exactly how good it is in Salter’s mini canon of greatness. A tip; get over the first few pages up on that church roof and you’ll find yourself finishing it at a sitting -on a ledge thousands of metres above the ground.

Salter’s non-mention in the story of 20th American sex-writing came at the same time, slightly unfortunately, as the issue on DVD on a film he scripted for Robert Redford, Downhill Racer. I haven’t seen it yet but the combination demonstrates a rare breadth of ability  no less and generated attention in places like GQ on the one hand and Slate on the other.

Any trigger to read Salter is welcome, but I think GQ’s notion that he is [‘merely’] a great sex writer is wrong. No no it’s more than that; he’s a great writer of desire, in the theoretical and quotidian sense. This is why his 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s writing feels so alive, generating ambivalence with a very particular nakedness of the spirit -and very much more.

So every time Salter is not-mentioned, take the reader’s revenge and enter a world founded not on comfortable certainties, leering vantage points or, I’m afraid, sexual possession/disgust, but on what a character in his earliest fiction describes as “indigenous doubt”; a world of conflicting desires, ideas, roles, intentions, hopes and expectations. One very like how we all experience being alive in 2010, no?

I’m posting a short celebratory review I wrote as Salter’s second collection of stories, Last Night, was published in the UK in 2006, when his other work was still very hard to get hold of.

Early in 2007 he was in London and gave an irresistible reading at the LRB bookshop. By then I’d drafted a highly singular and -dare I say- pretty authoritative essay called Meeting James Salter.  I sent my 7000 word essay to one or two people with sufficient appetite in London. That led indirectly to me actually meeting JS and then to him mailing substantial comments and factual corrections to my essay.

I haven’t succeeded -or tried hard enough- in ‘placing’ Meeting James Salter, surprise, surprise. The only journal in the UK that publishes at any such length told me they’d done something on him recently, meaning an ill-read review from the this-man-is-a-sexist-cliché school in 2004. Such things are telling if forgivable for a young critic; not so for the well-seasoned publication itself.

For now, anyone interested in reading or publishing my essay can email me at the address in About: queries [at] g-m-a [dot] net.

Screenshot 2018-03-12 10.30.56

Last Night. By James Salter

Penetrating tales about life from an American master of fiction

Review by Guy Mannes-Abbott

Thursday, 30 March 2006

“Aplomb” is a favourite word of James Salter’s. He praises Virginia Woolf for hers, adds it to the physical glories of a busy mistress, and, in Nedra Berland, heroine of his novel Light Years, wrote a study of it. He uses it like this; “I liked the way he spoke, the speed of his conclusions, the breadth of his scorn, the exactness of his references. Also his aplomb.”

Famously, albeit not famously enough, Salter is the Jewish-American fighter pilot and film writer/maker, transformed in mid life into a master of ecstatic prose fiction and non-fiction. Even this legend has a singular footnote containing two early novels, straighter accounts of airborne daring-do, recently revised. Literary canons are risible, as Harold Bloom’s choice of Light Years and Solo Faces for his parade, The Western Canon, demonstrates. However, Salter has written three books that everyone should read before they die; A Sport and a Pastime [1967], Light Years [1975] and his book of recollection, Burning the Days [1996].

Death and the life achieved against it is Salter’s obsession. As a fighter with more than 100 missions over Korea in the 1950s you might expect as much. Similarly hard earned experience helped make Solo Faces a brilliantly authentic portrait of mountaineering. Both pursuits promise much and demand absolutely everything of you. Aplomb incorporates this dauntlessness as well as Nedra’s “self conquest”, a freedom gained only by risking all. Otherwise, she adds, “life is only appetites until the teeth are gone.” Salter’s world, most obviously the idyll memorialised in Light Years, may appear exclusive but is shaped by “lives achieved in agony”, gamblers who have lost, a peculiar dissidence.

All of this is exemplified in his new collection of ten short stories written since the early 1990s. Last Night follows Dusk and other stories, a collection which began with Am Strande von Tanger from 1968. From the first Salter was fully present in stories which have all the precise interiority and penetrating perspective of his novels. They share something else. At least half of Dusk’s stories are milestones of the form, yet were spurned by The New Yorker, for instance, and remain out of print. His novels have struggled to find publishers, only to immediately fall from view. Now, two of them will shortly become Penguin Modern Classics.

Last Night opens with Philip and Adele’s marriage, their fifth -jointly. Around a Salteresque dinner table with friends, Philip resists the consensual reaction to news of infidelity. Then, while Adele guts her husband’s failed marriages he holds to their joys; he’d do it all again. Outside Adele finds him staring at a comet; “It won’t be there tomorrow. One time only.” She turns away, shrinking as she recrosses the lawn “reaching first the aura, then the brightness, then tripping on the kitchen steps.”

Elsewhere a young couple’s agreement to correct irritating flaws in each other with a ‘give’ founders when Anna asks Jack to “stop the sex” with Des, their semi-resident poet and child’s inspired friend. In Platinum we encounter the downside of aplomb, when Brian and his powerful father-in-law find themselves sharing the “forbidden happiness” of busy Pamela. In Bangkok, a book dealer shucks off a former lover’s fantasy offer, preferring his settled existence: “It was not a pretend life.”

Salter has described finding part of “one’s never complete mosaic … abroad” -as seductively elaborated in A Sport and a Pastime. Similarly, his characters are made whole by their secrets and deceptions. This is true even of Walter Such in Last Night -first published in The New Yorkerwho is to administer a lethal injection for his terminally ill wife, Marit, after dining with their young female friend. Classic Salter and as good as living writing gets, the story collides with a comet, ricocheting unpredictably.

Last Night tops a beautifully weighted collection fully the equal of Dusk. These stories, like Solo Faces, have been written with the sun directly overhead, in contrast to the angular, retrospective veils of evening light which are so much Salter’s style. The recognisable present occasions some stylistic dilution but no loss of exactitude or exquisitely crafted velocity. Last Night is an urgent and deeply gratifying reminder of what reading is for.

PICADOR, £14.99. ORDER FOR £13.99 (FREE P&P) ON 0870 079 8897

gujarat, while baroda burns; TANK magazine 2004

while baroda burns

by Guy Mannes-Abbott

In 2004 TANK reprinted extracts from my extensive notebooks on Gujarat in western India.  They’re taken from the days of “mass massacres” when I was locked up under curfew in my room on the 4th floor of a hotel, forbidden to leave the building or even to go as low as the 1st floor.

The whole story of witnessing state-sponsored pogroms while trapped with Bhupen Khakhar in his car on the outskirts of Gujarat’s second city and its various contexts form part of my forthcoming book A Gram of Gujarat. A part, but only a part. A part along with many other equally vivid, penetrating and suggestive parts! Taken together they provide a unique insight into Gujarat and contemporary India which enables a proper grasp of these signal events.

These particular extracts reflect something of the raw experience of being trapped in a room [tall building, complicit city and bone-shaking witness] looking out of a window onto a building usually only ever animated by women. I watched discretely as the traditional rhythms of everyday life went on in an abstracted way. Above rose black impressions of the terror being inflicted on Baroda’s old city; common, abstract again [literally framed by my window] but presumably at least as intense as those I’d been caught in. Otherwise; silence.

After two or three days it occurred to me to take photographs [some of which are poorly repro’d here], as the oddity of life in the building and the realisation that the smoky evidence was likely to stop if or when the army eventually took control of the city dawned. Obviously I was as visible as the people opposite and didn’t want to impose on them, so each image was snatched and for me condenses hours of the life it captures. Similarly, I only took one image of the smoke at the end and with confused reluctance; a feeble effort all around.

The politicians and authorities responsible for the massacres believe that the subcontinent is both Fatherland and Holyland; that the very dust is bound up forever with the dharma/spirit of each and every Hindu. Hindutva is a terrifying ideology, drawn from European fascism and Nazism specifically and these “mass massacres” a direct and logical result of it. Followers believe that a Hindu never loses their dharma and so India’s 150 million Muslims must recover theirs and renounce Islam -or they can ‘leave’.

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This is the same India that has a secular constitution and which was once the proud centre of the Non-Alignment movement but which has never reconciled itself fully with several centuries of Islamic dominance and conquest. Not even though a consequently rich Islamic heritage forms just one part of the subcontinent’s definitively syncretic culture. This is part of the specificity of hindutva, and why it’s worth reading VD Savarkar on the subject and understanding what there is of substance beyond the shudderingly crude race hatred that so corrupted his mind and thought.

The same India where some of the nicest people I met, seasoned secularists of various stripes, were the most complacent/deluded about the pressing actuality. It’s distressing to listen to someone making fun of their own Muslim upbringing, poo-pooing any intimacy with Islam or its wider culture, laughing at the notion that they would have any insight into such a subject when their own work, memoirs and even academic cv contradicts them. Frustrating when the point is simple; ‘they’ perceive you to be Muslim whatever your self-image. This is the nature of racism, fascism and lest we forget Nazism specifically.

Any conversation of that kind contains the unmistakable presumption that as a Foreigner I can’t possibly understand. It’s all a very complex, internal affair and only one of us can really appreciate it. In such instances they were clearly mistaken. In one exemplary case, when politely listening to an excited account of brief passage through a ‘secret’ outpost on the edge of the Rann of Kutch, I kept to myself the knowledge that I’d ridden out to the same particular outpost four times, found a floor to stay on inside its walls, a cave to sleep in beyond them.

Such an intense, ‘deep’ encounter with place and people was the yardstick I developed , which is why I was able to contextualize just how much or little right-minded, out of touch secularists of this kind understood about their neighbours [and to contextualise their insulting and short-sighted presumptions]. It’s for this reason that what happened to that particular individual and to other Muslims [religious or otherwise] across the State was profoundly shocking to me, but not a surprise. This is why it all made a horrible kind of ‘sense’.

Whilst ‘Metro’ secularists disown, deny and delude themselves about what “mass massacres” meant for India, I’d been encountering it in mud and urban kitchens, chai stops in deserts and forests, main roads, side streets and camel tracks, mandirs, dharamsalas and masjids, chellahs, tirths and tuks, Bohra wads, mohallas/pols and Societies, forts, havelis, universities and cool alleyways across the state. I listened to barots and charans, dalits and Brahmins, shia and sunni, professors and ‘local’ historians, ram sewaks and their Big Men financiers, MPs and MLAs, victims and perpetrators, writers and architects. I’d witnessed what it meant for months before this discreet horror and for months afterwards.

Understanding requires a real engagement with a wide range of things, places, peoples and times. It requires the articulation of distinct and interrelated elements in an authoritative portrait of a people and their place. Such a portrait would enable understanding of these particular events but also a much wider context. If it succeeded it would reveal the interiors of  Gujarat as a whole and provide a unique insight into subcontinental India. This is what I’ve attempted to do with A Gram of Gujarat.