The year 2012 has given us some wonderful books and works of literature for people of all generations. Some like 50 Shades of Grey have shocked the world and entered into the pop cultural landscape, with tens of millions of their copies being sold worldwide. Although not literary, the sheer magnitude of its sales has given a much-needed boost to the book publishing industry, making the publication of more literary works financially viable. It is these, more literary works that rank as best of 2012. Sunday Plus has compiled a selection of top-notch titles for those who want to read something more fulfilling before they go to bed. To improve the list we took some moments of Aysha Raja’s time, who is not only a prolific reader but also owns The Last Word- a bookshop that boasts an impressive collection of contemporary fiction and non-fiction by both local and international writers. She is an advocate for more reading and writing in Pakistan, and had the privilege of serving on the panel of the Commonwealth Book Prize 2012. She is also the publisher and the co-editor of the Life’s Too Short Literary Review, a magazine that consists of new writing from Pakistan, and founding member of the short story prize of the same name. The following are the great reads of 2012.
Every year brings a crop of new novels, some of which soon disappear without trace, whilst others become classics and are enjoyed by generations of readers. The year 2012 introduced some great novels which caused a stir in literary circles. Some of the writers of these novels are established and many readers are well acquainted with their previous works, whilst some are newcomers who have proven their worth through their debut novels. Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel, is perhaps the greatest literary thriller of the year. It revels in the lack of happy outcomes for its ill-fated couple, whose terrifying normalcy is slowly peeled away, with financial woes and family arguments coming to light. The author has signed a new two-book deal after the mega-success of this novel. Then there is The Unlike Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce’s first novel .It tells the story of Harold Fry as apparent from the title, whose life is marked by routine. He receives a letter from Queenie, a former colleague who’s dying of cancer and wants to say goodbye. Instead of writing a letter in response, he decides to meet her and starts a pilgrimage on foot from the south of Britain to the north. Rachel Joyce has written this wonderful novel after writing radio plays for more than 17 years. It became an international sensation and landed her on the Man Booker Prize long list. The Newlyweds by Nell Freuenberger is a suspenseful story about the exhilarations and real-life complications of getting and staying married. It stretches across continents, generations, and explores cross-cultural tensions. It tells a captivating story of Amina Mazid, a 24-year-old from Dhaka, Bangladesh, who meets an American man, named George Stillman online and moves to Rochester, New York, to marry him. Nell Freudenberger, 37, is an American novelist who is no stranger to the Indian subcontinent and has travelled extensively throughout the region. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach explores relationships between friends, family, and lovers and the unpredictable forces that complicate them. The title is a reference to baseball, but Harbach's concern with sports is more than just a cheap metaphor. Although it is Chad’s fiction debut, he has written it like a seasoned novelist. Between Clay and Dust by Musharraf Ali Farooqi is by fat the best Pakistani fiction release of the year. It is a beautiful piece of literature that distinguishes Musharraf Ali Farooqi from other Pakistani fictions writers. This novel forgets the baggage of the recent past which we have gathered in form of terrorism and goes back to the past. Its plotline is delicately executed and it can also be termed as classical novel because of its theme and narrative style. The story of the novel is set in an unnamed Pakistani city shortly after Partition, unravels the lives of Ustad Ramzi, one of the greatest wrestlers of the land, who is now old and warmed only by the memories of his past;, and the equally renowned Gohar Jan, a courtesan whose kotha once welcomed lords of the land but is now in danger of being shut down. Next is The Sound Of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vasques who is one of the leading Columbian novelists of his generation. It is a brilliant novel which explores the legacy of the Colombian drug trade through the experiences of one tortured soul. I Am An Executioner by Rajesh Parameswarn is a fiction debut in which there are nine stories about the power of love and the love of power, the two urgent human desires that inevitably and sometimes calamitously intertwine. It has lot of Indian culture like arranged marriages, caste clashes and mouth-watering meals.
Sci-Fi and Dystopian Fiction
A big trend in fiction, which is gaining popularity amongst younger readers, is dystopian or post-apocalyptic fiction. It is a sub-genre of science fiction which is generally concerned with the end human civilisation due to some catastrophe like nuclear warfare, pandemic, supernatural phenomena or any other general disaster. The genre gained popularity after the Second World War when USA dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and people became conscious about the global annihilation by nuclear weapons. Readers can judge the popularity of this genre through the success of movies (see: The Hunger Games) on this topic. Pure by Jullian Baggott is one such novel which tells the story of a world recovering from a series of catastrophic nuclear detonations, and the different people living in this a post-apocalyptic environment. Julianna Baggott has published 17 books and Pure is the first of a trilogy with its second book ‘Fuse’ being published in February 2013. Angelmaker is Nick Harkaway's second novel. It is a riotous fantasy involving automaton monks, East End villains and a plot to end the world. It is a far better structured piece of work than Harkaway’s debut. The Twelve by Justin Crown is a kind of palimpsest of his first book The Passage. It is more dystopian than the first book and continues the story of the survivors from the First Colony five years after The Passage ended. It is a series of road trips across a post-apocalyptic American landscape almost a century after the initial crisis, as well as a spiritual journey, a horrifying thriller and a love story. What would happen if the veil between visible and invisible worlds started to fray? This is the premise of G Willow Wilson's brilliant debut novel Alif the Unseen, which draws on Islamic theology, the hacking underworld. A young Arab-Indian hacker protects watched groups from surveillance and tries to stay out of trouble—until he falls in love with the wrong woman and unleashes a forbidden text thought to be written by the jinn.
Literary Giants Coming Out With New Novels
Some great writers are consistently producing marvellous works of literature and giving the world some exceptional novels to read. Albanian poet and novelist Ismail Kadare is one such big name the winner of the Man Booker International Prize and has also been nominated several times for the Nobel Prize. The Fall of The Stone City is his dream-like explorations of the worst aspects of human nature. It is an outstanding feat of imagination delivered in inimitable style. Tom Wolfe in Back to Blood finds racial tensions which catapults the reader into the political and social structure of Miami. With great skill, Wolfe introduces the ethnic beauty of the women of Miami who play a major role adding to the complexity of relationships as played out by the protagonist police officer Nestor Camacho. Umbrella is Will Self’s most ambitious novel to date. Moving between Edwardian London and a suburban mental hospital in 1971, Umbrella exposes the twentieth century’s technological searchlight as refracted through the dark glass of a long term mental institution. Author Peter Carey starts every novel with the big argument and in his most recent novel The Chemistry of Tears, he is concerned with nothing less than the fate of the earth. It starts in 2010 but like the best of Carey’s fiction it slips into the 19th century. Richard Ford's triumphant novel Canada explores the impact of parental foolishness on a son's life. It is a story of a 15 year old boy, Dell, coming to terms with the sudden disintegration of his family in northern Montana and his resilience during a period of being under the control of strangers with little concern for his situation or fate.
Some notable creative talents have been given the biographical treatment. In leading biographies of the year one is of David Foster Wallace. He was the leading literary light of his era, a man who not only captivated readers with his prose but also mesmerised them with his brilliant mind. His untimely death by suicide at the age of forty-six in 2008 has become more than the quintessential writer for his time—he has become a symbol of sincerity and honesty in an inauthentic age. In his biography Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story, the writer D.T.Max sets out to chart Wallace’s tormented, anguished and often triumphant battle to succeed as a novelist as he fights off depression and addiction to emerge with his masterpiece, Infinite Jest. Matt Thorne’s Prince is the account of a maverick whose experiments with rock, funk, techno and jazz revolutionised pop. Referencing every phase of his career including over 35 years in the recording studio and onstage, Thorne's book developed through years of research and interviews with ex-Revolution members such as Wendy and Lisa and Dez Dickerson.
Graphic novels are narrative stories told using illustrations which usually appear in the comic format. The history of these novels can be traced centuries back and are finally gaining popularity in Pakistan. Often these novels are non-fiction. One of the novels which have done well in 2012 is Journalism by Joe Sacco, who is an award-winning novelist and his works have been translated into fourteen languages. Journalism is a collection of articles on the American military in Iraq. His comics are intensively researched and are deeply humane which depicts the disturbing portraits of war, oppression and sectarian tension. Building Stories by Chris Ware is another great graphic novel which is about the inhabitants of three apartments in a Chicago three-flat near Humboldt Park, and about how their lives intersect and then break away from each other.
Among the best non-fiction of 2012 is Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers. It is a gripping work of reportage based on the three years she spent in Mumbai to do research for her book. Residents of the Annawadi slum, which is located next to the Mumbai airport and in the shadow of several luxury hotels, live in devastating poverty. Her book tells the dramatic and heartbreaking story of families striving toward a better life in one of the twenty-first century’s great, unequal cities. One important aspect is that she listens closely and intelligently that the reader can feel the richness of her affection. Another very important non fiction is Thinking Fast And Slow by Daniel Kahneman. In it Kahneman demonstrates how easy it is for humans to swerve away from rationality and how our biases lead us time and again to make dumb to unreasonable choices. The writer introduces the "machinery of the mind" and its two systems: System One is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System Two is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. Examining how both systems function within the mind, Kahneman exposes the extraordinary capabilities and also the faults and biases of fast thinking, and the pervasive influence of intuitive impressions on our thoughts and our choices. From The Ruins Of Empire by Pankhaj Mishra is another remarkable book in which the author comes to a provocative account of how China, India and the Muslim World are remaking the world in their own image. It is a surprising and gripping narrative in which Mishra tells the story through the biographies of three public intellectuals: the itinerant Persian-born agitator Jamal al-Din al-Afghani; the Chinese reformer Liang Qichao; and Rabindranath Tagore, the poet and Nobel laureate. Then comes The Better Angels Of Our Nature by Steven Pinker which argues that violence in the world, especially the western part, has declined both in the long run and in the short, and suggests explanations why this has happened. The phrase "the better angels of our nature" stems from the last words of Lincoln's first inaugural address.
Upcoming Literature By and About Pakistan
Pakistan has been producing world-class literature for some years now. Mohsin Hamid is perhaps the most influential and successful of the new crop of Pakistani authors. His new book How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia which releases in spring of 2013 is an astonishing and riveting tale of a man’s journey from impoverished rural boy to corporate tycoon. It steals its shape from the business self-help books devoured by ambitious youths all over ‘rising Asia’. Shazaf Fatima Haider is a promising debut author from Karachi and her novel How It Happened is due for publication in early 2013. It charts the clashes of generations in a Bandian family, when the powerful matriarch decides to marry off her grandchildren through the family tradition of arranged marriages. Hilarity ensues, as the children resist her efforts.
A seismic shift in the reading habits of Pakistani children is likely to transpire after the publication this year of the first Pakistani children’s novel in English: Tik-Tik, The Master of Time by Musharraf Ali Farooqi. The novel tells the story of, Tik-Tik who lives on the planet Nopter, where the slowness of growing up troubles him, so he embarks on a cosmic journey of discovery with his best friend, Nib-Nib; his grandpa Kip-Kip; and the inter-galactic travelling cat, Dum-Dum. The Growing-Up-Project takes the four of them to the small blue planet, Earth, where amazing and sometimes hilarious adventures await them. This was the first publication by Kitab, which is poised to bring about a revival in children literature in 2013, with a host of new titles.
Literature from Conflict Zones
Victims of oppressive regimes have employed the literary form, to among other things raise awareness of their plight. Palestine has seen a prolonged period of brutal occupation at the hands of the Israeli military and government much of which has been documented by Palestinian writer and lawyer Raja Shehadeh. His latest book Occupation Diaries is a collection of entries of daily life in the West Bank. Shehadeh is angry about the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the illegal settlements that dot his beloved Palestinian landscape and the roads that divide the people of this territory. And he is angry about the failure of Israel's allies and donors to prevent the discrimination against Palestinians and Israeli Arabs that he encounters in his life as an activist and a lawyer. Occupation Diaries spans a two-year period, from December 2009 to December 2011. It touches on major events that will be familiar to most readers of The Electronic Intifada, such as the uprising in Yemen.
The revolution in Egypt is the cornerstone of the continuing Arab Spring. Critically acclaimed novelist Ahdaf Souief camped out in Tahrir Square with thousands of other Egyptians at the height of the protests. Cairo: My City, Our Revolution, is an account of the revolution, the people who brought it about and the city she loves Souief the book “not a record of an event that's over. It's an attempt to welcome you into... an event we're still living."