Arundhati Roy’s 1997 Booker Prize–winning debut novel, The God of Small Things, helped transform her into an overnight literary celebrity and something of a poster author for the boom in Indian writing. (Billboards across the country trumpeted her Booker victory.) She followed up the novel, however, with a stinging essay condemning India and Pakistan’s nuclear showdown, entitled “The End of Imagination,” and set off, as she’s said, “on a political journey which I never expected to embark on.” She was soon taking up the pen on a range of issues—big dam projects that were displacing communities, India’s occupation of Kashmir, political corruption, and Hindu extremism. Suddenly, she was seen in a very different light at home: a voice of conscience, perhaps, but also a shrill and uncomfortable reminder of what lurked behind India’s democracy.
But perhaps nothing quite prepared her for the virulent response to her March 2010 cover story for the Indian newsweekly Outlook, an inside report from the jungle camps where Maoist insurgents (and tribal villagers) were locked in a deadly and drawn-out battle with government forces over mineral-rich land. “Here in the forests of Dantewada [in central India],” she writes, “a battle rages for the soul of India.” That article forms the centerpiece of her new collection, Walking with the Comrades, from Penguin Books; while Kashmir: The Case for Freedom, out now from Verso, also includes pieces by Roy as well as Tariq Ali, Pankaj Mishra, and others. She’ll be making two rare appearances in New York next month, at the CUNY Graduate Center on November 9 and the Asia Society on November 11. I recently spoke with her by phone in Delhi. Read More
“Moments are the elements of profit,” Karl Marx wrote in Capital, quoting from an 1860 report by one of the British government’s factory inspectors. Marx believed that the uniformity of time underlay the fungibility of money; the time it took to make a commodity was, according to his theory, the basis of its value in the marketplace. If it takes ten hours to make an overcoat and ten to make a wheel of Stilton cheese, the coat and the cheese can be fairly traded. After all, a coat maker’s ten hours mean as much as a cheesewright’s. Or, as Thoreau put it, somewhat more poetically: “The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.”
Andrew Niccol’s new movie In Time brings the labor theory of value to the big screen with bold literalness. In the future, thanks to genetic engineering, everyone’s physical appearance ceases to develop or decline at age twenty-five, at which moment, with a silent, monitory thump, a stop watch on the left forearm—a cross between an Auschwitz serial number and a lime-green digital alarm clock—begins ticking down from one year. To get more time, one must beg, borrow, steal, or work, and with sufficient wealth, one can live forever. Read More
Even the most confident of writers can be excused for wondering if words, mere black-and-white glyphs, can compete in a world filled with ever more animated, flashing, full-color, special-effects-crammed and interactive visual media. At such times, it’s helpful to remember a passage from Norton Juster’s children’s novel, The Phantom Tollbooth, describing a visit by the hero, Milo, to the archives of the Soundkeeper in the Lands Beyond.
The Soundkeeper boasts that her vaults contain “every sound that’s ever been made in history.” To prove it, she opens a drawer and pulls out “a small brown envelope,” explaining that it contains “the exact tune George Washington whistled when he crossed the Delaware on that icy night in 1777.” Milo, Juster writes, “peered into the envelope and, sure enough, that’s exactly what was in it.” The narrative moves briskly on.
Like much of the best fiction for children, this scene illustrates how writing well consists not only of knowing what to put in, but also of knowing what to leave out. Read More
Levin wins back Kitty after behaving like a complete ass, but you may not have time to read Anna Karenina. There’s the moment when Little Miss No Name runs downstairs to say good-bye to Max de Winter, in Rebecca, and it happens early in the book, but maybe that’s not exactly a case of winning somebody back. I’m guessing swordplay and feats of derring-do are not to the point—so I would read Pursuits of Happiness, Stanley Cavell’s 1981 study of what he calls “remarriage comedies,” movies about couples falling apart and getting back together. First you’ll want to cue up the movies in question: The Lady Eve, It Happened One Night, Bringing Up Baby, The Philadelphia Story, His Girl Friday, Adam’s Rib, and The Awful Truth.
If that doesn’t give you any ideas, readers of this column will guess my first recommendation: the wacky but wise self-help book Love and Limerence, also Ovid’s Cure for Love—full of useful advice, like: focus on the beloved’s physical imperfections—and George Jones, opera omnia.
Do you think joining a private social club—a super old-fashioned one in a historic building whose members have all led long, literary lives—sounds (a) retro and totally cool, or (b) stodgy and a little weird, a misplaced desire for a twenty-something who might be the club’s only member under sixty, and only Jew in history?
I turned to a former history professor of mine, Niall Ferguson, for some interesting thoughts on Wall Street: “The American Dream is about social mobility, not enforced equality.” —Natalie Jacoby
Michael Pollan’s wildly informative Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual gets an update, with new rules as well as illustrations by Maira Kalman. —Jessica Calderon
What better way to get your Halloween thrills this weekend than with the Bernard Herrmann double features at Film Forum? His marvelously affecting scores were instrumental in making movies like Psycho, The Birds, and Vertigo so atmospheric and disturbing. —Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn
I’ve been thinking about Galicia lately, what with Andrzej Stasiuk’s Dukla having just been released by Dalkey Archive, so it was a nice surprise to come across Timothy Snyder’s fascinating history of the region in the latest New York Review of Books. —Nicole Rudick
Ever since I began patronizing NYC’s Treats Truck, I have been curious about the secret of their scrumptious Butterscotch Pecan Bar. Imagine my delight, then, when I learned they are releasing a cookbook! I’ve preordered my copy, and the office will doubtless reap the rewards. —Sadie Stein
This week I reread Allen Ginsberg’s 1966 interview in The Paris Review and found myself wandering back to the excellent recording of his poem “America” at the Poetry Archive. —Emma Gallwey