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Posts Tagged ‘Akhil Sharma’

Introducing Our New Video Series, “My First Time”

May 21, 2015 | by

The Paris Review is known for its interviews. Our first issue, from Spring 1953, featured a conversation with E. M. Forster on the art of fiction, inaugurating a series that’s grown to include hundreds of poets, novelists, playwrights, translators, cartoonists, and screenwriters. These Writers at Work interviews have created a genre and canon of their own.

In the spirit of that tradition, we’re proud to present “My First Time,” a new video series where writers discuss the trials of writing and publishing that first novel, that first play, that first book of poems. This is a chance to see how successful authors got their start, in their own words—it’s a portrait of the artist as a beginner and a look at the creative process, in all its joy, abjection, delusion, and euphoria.

Next week, starting on Tuesday, we’ll launch the first four videos in the series, featuring Christine Schutt, J. Robert Lennon, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, and Gabrielle Bell. You can see a preview above, including writers from future installments of the series such as Donald Antrim, Akhil Sharma, Tao Lin, Ben Lerner, and Sheila Heti. And stay tuned—we’ll announce more writers in the months to come.

This series is made by the filmmakers Tom Bean, Casey Brooks, and Luke Poling; we’re delighted to collaborate with them.

On a Pedestal

April 27, 2015 | by

Duras’s The Lover, thirty years later.

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A young Duras on the cover of The Lover.

Early in Marguerite Duras’s The Lover, we encounter an indelible image: a strange rag doll of a girl rides the ferry across the Mekong River en route to Saigon. She’s an adolescent, fifteen and a half, and she looks both too young and too old for her age, in a sleeveless, low-cut, red silk dress, a leather belt that belongs to one of her older brothers, gold lamé shoes, and—the most striking piece of her ensemble—a large, flat-brimmed men’s hat:

Having got it, this hat that all by itself makes me whole, I wear it all the time. With the shoes it must have been much the same, but after the hat. They contradict the hat, as the hat contradicts the puny body, so they’re right for me.

That elliptical, dreamlike tone is characteristic of the novel. The book’s narrator is a young woman in flux. She’s outgrown childhood and has poured her body into oversize markers of adulthood; the conclusion of the ferry ride signals the start of her sexual awakening, as she first glimpses the chauffeured black limousine that belongs to the twenty-seven-year-old Chinese businessman, the novel’s eponymous lover.

The Lover, Duras’s forty-eighth work, was published in France in 1984; the English translation arrived in the United States a year later. If the book, at just over a hundred pages, reads like the hazy, disconnected musings of a seventy-year-old writer looking at faded snapshots of her past, that’s because it is. When Duras claimed that the novel was entirely autobiographical, it became something of an international sensation. But, as the New York Times noted, “truth, in the Durasian universe, is a slippery entity”; Duras also went on to say “that the story of her life did not exist.” She and the novel found even more notoriety a decade later, when Jean-Jacques Annaud’s film adaptation was released. Duras eventually washed her hands of the film, which focused mainly on the erotic elements of the story—and indeed the novel’s depictions of sex receive an outsize portion of attention. But it’s also a study in the narrator’s fraught connection with her family and the cultural fissures in French-colonial Indochine. Read More »

Patron Saint of Inveighing Against Stuff, and Other News

March 24, 2015 | by

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Pray to G. K. Chesterton.

  • Congratulations to Akhil Sharma, whose novel Family Life has won the Folio Prize. Writing the book, Sharma said, was “like chewing stones”: “I’m glad the book exists, I just wish I hadn’t been the guy who wrote it.”
  • “The traditional complaint about teenagers—that they treat the place like a hotel—has no purchase on me. In fact, I quite like the idea. A hotel is a place where you can come and go autonomously and with dignity; a place where you will not be subjected to criticism, blame or guilt; a place where you can drop your towel on the floor without fear of reprisal, but where, hopefully, over time, you become aware of the person whose job it is to pick it up and instead leave it folded neatly on a chair.” Rachel Cusk on raising teenagers.
  • The Great Gatsby­ was published in 1925 to lukewarm reviews and sluggish sales—how did it become a classic? Salute (or blame) the GIs: “As a part of a revolutionary scheme of donating more than 22 million books to World War II troops abroad, a publisher threw in a random book from its backlist: The Great GatsbyGatsby and others entered the consciousness of millions of men who returned from war with an appreciation for paperback books and reading.”
  • A group of Catholics have proposed G. K. Chesterton for sainthood. “Chesterton, in his jolly way, was a militant. A blaster of the superstitions of modernity, a toppler of the idols of materialism. He inveighed ceaselessly, at great length, and without ever once repeating himself, against ‘the thought-destroying forces of our time’: pessimism and determinism and pragmatism and impressionism.”
  • A brief history of gayness on television: “By the fall of 1974, three years after the first gay cameo on popular American television (the vehicle was the liberal lodestar All in the Family), there were a handful of gay characters on prime time … ‘All were rapists, child molesters, or murderers.’ Activists lobbied networks to stop depicting gays as criminals and, within a few years, moved on to more subtle forms of otherness.”

“A Noisy Cavalcade of Fraud,” and Other News

February 5, 2015 | by

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“Ingenious mendacity” ... How much do you have?

  • A reminder from literature: capitalism was always a disaster, even in the days when virtue and commerce were thought to go hand in hand. “The gentlemanly capitalism we were brought up to believe in was, if not wholly mythical, a sideshow in a noisy cavalcade of fraud, theft, and what Walter Bagehot called ‘ingenious mendacity’ on all sides … We should return to the pages of Dickens and Trollope to remind ourselves that there were wrong ’uns at every level and turn of nineteenth-century commerce, from crooked agents, clerks, brokers, and jobbers to ‘lords on the take, knights on the make’—and that ‘the thieves were often difficult to distinguish from the legitimate,’ to the cost of the ill-informed and gullible investor and customer.”
  • In Donetsk, Ukraine, as artillery continues to barrage the city, the show must go on. “The persistent shelling was barely audible through the thick stone walls of the Donetsk National Academic Opera … The highly regarded opera continues a regular schedule of weekend performances, as does the neighboring dramatic theater. Performers at the popular Donetsk circus, having finished their New Year’s routines, are planning a new round of shows in February. The planetarium open every weekend. Many cinemas are operating.”
  • Akhil Sharma on Chekhov the journalist: “Sakhalin Island is the greatest work of journalism from the nineteenth century … It has the pleasure of moving through a physical, distinct world and the keenness of documentary analysis.”
  • Van Gogh, method actor: He began his professional life “in the Borinage, the former industrial and mining region to the southwest of Mons … He originally intended to be a pastor, but the sickly, impoverished mining communities were often baffled by his attempts at asceticism and his clumsy efforts to fit in by wearing rags, blackening his face and sleeping on the ground.”
  • “Many of us have at least one thing we have put our name to that we have later regretted and desperately hoped might never again resurface to embarrass us, something that is far from guaranteed in an age of social-media outrage cycles … Pat Conroy’s novel The Great Santini was such a thinly-veiled portrayal of his tyrannical military father that Conroy’s mother presented it to the judge at her divorce proceedings, saying, ‘everything you need is in there.’ ”

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What We’re Loving: Gremlin Jokes, Spiritual Paths, Sundae Ire

January 17, 2014 | by

Backgammon (1982) by Jane Freilicher

Jane Frelicher, Backgammon, 1982.

It’s been almost fifteen years since Akhil Sharma published his first novel, An Obedient Father. This terrible, improbably funny book—about a single mother forced to share an apartment with the father who raped her as a child—won Sharma a PEN/Hemingway prize, a Whiting Award, and praise from the likes of Jonathan Franzen and Joyce Carol Oates. (I remember because it was the first novel I had the honor of editing.) Now Sharma is back with Family Life, the tale of an Indian American boy coming of age in the shadow of a family disaster. It too is terrible and improbably funny, and is excerpted in this week’s New Yorker. With acid, deceptively artless prose and a faultless ear for dialogue, Sharma strips his characters bare from page one and dares us to love them in their nakedness. I cannot think of a more honest or unsparing novelist in our generation. —Lorin Stein

Michael Hofmann is the only translator whose work I would read no matter what he decided to English—if only I could keep up with him! In the excellent new issue of Asymptote, he tells a story about interviewing Wolfgang Koeppen in 1992, four years before the German novelist’s death. (“With my English reticence and youth, I met Koeppen halfway: in other words, we were both barely out of our shells.”) He also writes of the Joseph Mitchell–like silence that Koeppen fell into after the publication of Death in Rome (1954) and lauds the still-untranslated last book, Youth (1976)—giving us reason to hope he might be at work on an English version. The final remarks on Koeppen’s sentences—continually “sidestepping into freedom,” “scrupulously managed, supple, cadenced, sumptuously lexical, expressive prose”—double as a description of Hofmann’s own writing. —Robyn Creswell

Poetry’s January issue contains a thirty-page feature on Jane Freilicher: her artwork and her close friendships with a number of poets, among them Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, and James Schuyler. The section is adapted from Tibor de Nagy Gallery’s wonderful exhibition, last summer, “Jane Freilicher: Painter Among Poets” (it’s currently on view at the Poetry Foundation, in Chicago). I remembered having glimpsed the show’s catalogue in Lorin’s office. I liberated it, and I’m not sure I’ll give it back. It’s like having a scrapbook made by the people whose work you most admire, and it shows that they had as good a time in one another’s company as you’d imagined. “Some little gremlins seemed to have popped loose in my idea factory and I think they may have been sent over from Koch’s brassiere factory,” writes Freilicher to O’Hara. And in what may be my favorite letter in the whole book, from Jane to Frank on a poem of his: “it just don’t seem to have that real low-down smelly sexy everyday Olympian quality your admirers depend upon.” —Nicole Rudick Read More »

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Suicide Notes, Mick Jagger, and Other News

June 3, 2013 | by

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  • “The suicide note—and I’m being deadly earnest—is moving, strange, harrowing and peculiar literature … People’s interest in them is almost pornographic.” Hence, a class on the art of the missive.
  • “After you have spent five or six years on a novel, you can’t abandon the project without risking a nervous breakdown.” After twelve years since publishing a story, Akhil Sharma talks to Page Turner. 
  • Mick Jagger says his autobiography would be boring, and besides, everyone knows everything.
  • Take this spelling bee test, and tremble.
  • (The winning word, by the way, was predictably controversial.)
  • Can there be too many pictures of nifty book rooms? There cannot. Above, the Library Lounge in Zurich.
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