Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The latest in reports on arts and culture from Spain, India, and Bangladesh

This week, as ever, we are eager to share stories from around the globe. Today we’re checking in with Podcast Editor Layla Benitez-James in Spain, Editor-at-Large Naheed Patel in Bangladesh, and Assistant Managing Editor Janani Ganesan in India. 

And don’t forget to check out our Fall 2016 issue here!

First, we drop in on Layla Benitez-James, Podcast Editor, with the scoop on Spain:

2016 marked the 400th Anniversary of Cervantes’s Death, but much of the Spanish public felt more time was moving in between their two rounds of inconclusive elections, so much so that they decided to avoid a third one, projected over Christmas, and are able now to focus on their budding literary scene. In Madrid, the Prado Museum is making history in the visual arts with a show dedicated to the art of painter Clara Peeters. She will be the first female artist with her own show in the museum’s two-hundred-year history.

In another surprise turn, Spain’s major poetry festival in the city of Córdoba, Cosmopoética, celebrated its lucky thirteenth iteration from September 25 through October 8. The theme this year was Dada and the festival welcomed international and homegrown writers alike, such as Julieta Valero, Fani Papageorgiou, and  Chantal Maillard.

While Spain harbors many fans of Bob Dylan, a good deal of the Spanish literary community was puzzled by the Nobel Prize news. Some, however, took the announcement with great humor, imagining the messages between the silent winner and an increasingly desperate Swedish Academy.

Congratulations were in order for Pablo Auladell of Alicante who won the Premio Nacional del Cómic for his graphic novel, El paraíso perdido [Paradise Lost]. Critics praised the work for its exceptional artistic valor and the strength of the visual inspiration it took from Milton’s work.

The south of Spain was once again victorious in the realm of literary prizes as Diego Sánchez Aguilar accepted the XIII Premio Setenil for his provocatively titled collection of short stories, Nuevas teorías sobre el orgasmo femenino [New Theories About the Female Orgasm].

Luisgé Martín and Miguel Ángel Hernández, both published in translation by new Spanish publishing house Hispabooks, acted as literary ambassadors across the Atlantic at the International Festival of Authors in Toronto.

Next, we visit with Naheed Patel, Editor-at-Large in India, who fills us in on politics and art from neighbouring Bangladesh:

The Bangladeshi newspaper The Pioneer recently published an online interview with writer and physician Taslima Nasreen, whose book Lajja was banned in 1994, after which she had to flee Bangladesh and seek asylum in India and the US. In the conversation, Nasreen talks about her recently released memoir Exile, the literary world, state machinery and her childhood. On speaking about Bangladesh as a failed democracy, Nasreen says, “No country should be based on religion. Pakistan is a failed state today because they let religious faith to determine their political and social life. Governments indulge fundamentalists and misogynists and that is a major setback for our growth. I say the same for Bangladesh. The Constitution should not be Islamized.”

Amid the recent turmoil over the restrictions imposed by conservative groups on Pakistani artists working in India, eminent Bangladeshi author Selina Hossain made a statement to the press at the sidelines of the Apeejay Bangla Sahitya Utsob, saying “Artists should have one-hundred percent freedom. They should be given respect. Governments will do their work and artists will function in their own domains. There shouldn’t be any barriers on artists. Their visas and permits shouldn’t be canceled.” Hossain was awarded the SAARC Literary Award in 2015 for her contribution to South Asian Literature; her novels and short stories have been translated into English, Russian, French, Japanese, Korean, Finnish and a number of Indian languages. The festival was a celebration of Bengali literature and brought together writers like Sanka Ghosh, Nabaneeta Deb Sen, Sanjib Chattopadhyay, Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay, and Bani Basu.

On the occasion of Jorge Luis Borges’ 117th birth anniversary, poet, essayist, and translator Razu Alauddin gave an interview with the Bangla Tribune. Alauddin is known for his translations from the Spanish into Bangla and specializes in Borges’ work. In the conversation, Alauddin talks about why he feel Borges is still an important writer today and addresses the “abysmal” condition of contemporary Bangla studies of Borges’s work.

Earlier this October, the Bengal Foundation paid homage to poet and litterateur Syed Shamshul Haq, who passed away in September, in a memorial at the Bangladesh National Museum. The commemorative talk was led by Bengal Foundation Chairman Abul Khair, who spoke about Haq’s role in designing the Foundation’s logo, as well as his immense contribution as a founding member along with Rabindra Sangeet singer Kalim Sharafi.

And we wrap up our world tour this week with Janani Ganesan, Assistant Managing Editor, who is dizzy with news about awards and lit fests in India: 

There will at least be eight literature festivals across the country held between now and February, including the most prominent Jaipur Literature Festival in January. Apart from these, is the Indian Languages Festival Samanvay, which will begin in two days (November 5–7) in New Delhi and focus exclusively on books written in Indian languages. Meanwhile, the Tata Literature Live! Mumbai LitFest (November 17–20) just announced the nominees for its various awards, and writer Kiran Nagarkar, with six novels and several screenplays, will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award. Slovakia seems to caught the bug from the lit fest season here, as its Arts Poetica Festival (November 16–21) will host an Indian cultural evening.

The English publishing world in the country woke up to the news of the resignation of V.K. Karthika, publisher and chief editor of HarperCollins India, whose name had become synonymous with the publishing house itself, just as Chiki Sarkar was synonymous with Penguin India (Sarkar quit Penguin last year to launch her own publishing house Juggernaut Books, a digital publishing platform). Karthika brought into publication some of the biggest names in literary writing in India, including Booker Prize winner Aravind Adiga, graphic novelist Amruta Patil, Anita Nair and Rana Dasgupta.

Social media and digital translation took a step back when Facebook programing translated the word, “Mada*****” to “Muslim”. The word, predictably, has nothing to do with Muslim and in fact means, “Mother f***er”. After backlash from users who were quick to note the the power of language, this translation was fixed to read, “idiot”, because, of course, social media is all about political correctness.

We don’t want to leave you on a tart note, so we also bring you the lovely news of the reopening of the Royal Opera House after a six-year renovation. After lying in ruins for over two decades, the opera house opened to the Mumbai Academy of Moving Image Film Festival on October 20 followed by a stunning performance by Mumbai-born British soprano Patricia Rozario the next day. Architect Abha Narain Lambah, oversaw the project on the century-old colonial building, retaining its baroque style. In a country struggling to understand its historical heritage as well as its contemporary arts, the renovation of the theatre will prove a useful turning point in arts appreciation.


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