Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Tale of Struggle and Survival

ERIC FORBES talks to Canadian filmmaker, screenwriter and début novelist SHANDI MITCHELL about how growing up in the wide open spaces of the Canadian prairies inspired her to be a novelist

AWARD-WINNING Canadian filmmaker and screenwriter Shandi Mitchell’s short films have been screened at many international film festivals. She spent her childhood on a military base in the Canadian Prairies and now makes her home in Nova Scotia on the east coast of Canada, with her husband and their dog. Her first novel, Under This Unbroken Sky, delves into the lives of two immigrant Ukrainian families consumed by the new land they yearn to possess during the Depression in the 1930s.

Congratulations on winning the 2010 Commonwealth Writers’ First Novel Prize (Canada and Caribbean) for your first novel, Under This Unbroken Sky. What was it like winning such a prestigious international literary prize?
Pretty darn fine. It’s wonderful having your work acknowledged, but the competition of art is always uncomfortable. You hope your book will be welcomed into the world, but you never imagine such an embrace. The great reward was meeting writers and readers from around the world and listening to their stories and global views.

Could you tell me a bit about your family history? Where were you born? Have you always lived in this part of Canada? What was it like growing up in this part of the world?
I was born in Chatham, New Brunswick, moved to Alberta when I was three, and then moved east to Nova Scotia when I was seventeen. The western prairies were the geography that imprinted on me. When I return there now, that immense sky can bring tears to my eyes.

Growing up on a military base made me an anxious kid who projected a tough exterior. I felt apart from the civilian world and also separate from the military culture. This likely shaped me to be an observer. I was curious about life beyond the lines of boundary. I went through a chameleon phase moving in and out of the lives of others, trying on different lives. But I was only ever a visitor.

I spent a great deal of time at my aunt and uncle’s farm. There I discovered a love for the natural world and the freedom to explore. It taught me self-reliance, hard work and a respect for those who seldom share their stories.

Now, I live near the sea. It possesses a different raw power, but I am still drawn to wide open spaces.

When did you know you were going to be a writer? Was it something you had always set your heart on?
As a child I always wrote—horribly, but I did write reams of poems and short stories, which to my chagrin are still in my mother’s possession. I was also an obsessive reader, but the idea of being a writer didn’t enter my consciousness. Writing was not a profession that had any reality, merit or value in the world that I lived in. The epitome of success was to attend university, secure a high-paying job, marry and start a family.

I chose to study English and Theatre in university, which did not result in a high-paying job. I stumbled into film, but, alas, found myself drawn to independent filmmaking (again, not lucrative). I was writing screenplays and making shorts, and about six years ago I began writing poetry and short stories again. It was my secret pleasure that didn’t require budget or financing approval. It was my place to play.

One of the character sketches evolved into what I called a “long story.” I had written a hundred and fifty pages, before I dared to admit that it was a novel. Only after it was published, did I call myself a writer. Even so, I have much more to write before I can comfortably use the word.

Recently, I had a call from my mother informing me that a cousin could get me a good job at a call centre, so the writing career is still in question!

What do you enjoy and dread most about your life as a writer?
What I enjoy most is the same thing that I dread: living inside my head.

What’s a typical day in your writing life like?
Coffee, feed and walk the dog, make contact with family, deal with domestic tasks that I can no longer ignore (laundry, dishes, cleaning the dog pen), try not to pace while waiting for my husband to leave for work, another half hour of avoidance, read the news, check emails (if I don’t expect anything that will require my attention), and finally off to the computer. If it’s a good day I hope to be inside a story for three or four hours. Then there may be a couple of hours of research and I’ll jot down ideas as to where I will be going next. I do try to disengage for the evening, but often find that story questions continue to churn and follow me into my sleep.

Was it difficult getting your first book published? Did you experience the usual difficulty in finding an agent or a publisher for it?
I don’t have a heroic story of rejection and triumph. I sent the first fifteen pages of the manuscript to two respected agents. One passed because they didn’t believe it would have a market in the US or UK. The second asked to see the entire manuscript, said yes, and then promptly sold it simultaneously to Canada, US and UK.

I read that your novel was inspired by a tragic event in your family’s history. Would you like to tell me a bit about this?
When I was eighteen, I was told that my grandfather hadn’t died of the flu in the 1930s. My family history unravelled and I set out to piece together the facts. What began as a personal search evolved as I discovered that part of my country’s history had also been erased or forgotten. I wondered about histories disappearing in a mere seventy years and a country’s reluctance to look back. I wanted to know about the blood and bones that my privileged life had been built upon. And, I suppose, I wanted to give voice to a generation that didn’t have the freedom to speak.

Did you know where you were going with the novel as you were writing it?
Yes and no. I had an end point that I knew I wanted to reach and I had a start point. Before I begin, I usually have a final image or scene in mind. I tend to map a rough outline, in which I set down a few guideposts and then I set the characters loose. How the characters get to those posts, I try to leave it up to them. And sometimes, the characters surprised me. They took on a will of their own and it felt as though I were writing behind them, just trying to catch the words. In several scenes, I found myself pulling back, seeing too late where a character was heading and not wanting to go there, but I had to get out of their way and allow them to do what they must.

What are some of the themes you dealt with in it? Were you conscious of these when you first set out to write the story?
I was interested in breaking points and the razor’s edge of life and death. As I fell into the characters’ lives I started to hear questions of freedom, pride, aloneness, madness and secrets.

Was there much research to do?
Set in the 1930s and spanning two countries, there was a great deal of research I had to do. My initial research though is broad and general. I try to catch a sense of the time, place, values, and social and economic conditions. I collect historical facts and often work from photographs, first-person accounts, documentaries and archival documents. But fairly quickly I want to sketch the setting and drop my characters into it. When the characters do something that demand detailed research that’s when I go deeper.

As you were writing the novel, how did you know when the manuscript is completed? Do deadlines determine this or do you feel a sense of confidence that there is no way you can improve on the story any further?
I’m not sure if it ever feels complete. There comes a point in the story where I can think of nothing more I can do. The characters have given me all of themselves. Then the editors come in and we find new places to poke, but rarely about story details. I don’t show my work until I believe the story is whole. Eventually, there are the eye-bleeding line edits and then I swear that I will never look at the manuscript again. It is done, done, DONE! But when the publishers come for it, they have to pry it from my hands. And I will probably make several more calls, to change “the” to “a”, etc.

What kinds of books did you read when you were growing up?
I tend to read books that have been deemed great either by time, by critics, or by readers. As a young child, I wanted dark fairy tales and fables. I wanted the stories to feel dangerous and pursue me off the page. As a pre-teen and teenager, I was drawn to books I was forbidden to read because of the subject matter: John Steinbeck, Günter Grass, Vladimir Nabokov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, J.D. Salinger, Ernest Hemingway, Yukio Mishima ... books that seemed to hold some secret about humanity that was being kept from me.

At some point, I realised I was reading only male authors. I wondered where the female voices were? And then I discovered Flannery O’Connor, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, Margaret Laurence, Joyce Carol Oates, Dorothy Parker, Doris Lessing, and many others.

In university, I realised that I was studying only British and American voices and began to look around the world. These past five years, I have found myself searching contemporary writers and looking back to Canada to hear the new voices.

However, I honestly can’t attest to a singular book that changed my life. They have each contributed to my perception of myself and the world.

Who are some of your favourite Canadian authors?
Michael Ondaatje, Steven Galloway, Alice Munro, Miriam Toews, Alistair MacLeod, Sue Goyette, Joseph Boyden, among others.

And do you reread books you enjoyed the first time round?
I sometimes go back and look for passages. I suspect that in another decade I will pick up books that have not left me and look at them again with older eyes. But for now, there is always something new calling to be discovered.

Do you read nonfiction?
No, though I do enjoy documentaries.

What are you reading at the moment?
I am writing now and I don’t read on days when I am writing. I don’t want to be influenced, nor do I want to be discouraged by my inadequacies. The last books I read were Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin, Henning Mankell’s Italian Shoes, and Nicole Krauss’s The History of Love.

In your opinion, is creativity or imagination something that can be taught, or is it inborn?
I think creativity and imagination can be freed, but I believe we are born with our passions.

Do you have a favourite short story or short-story collection?
The latest collections that have wowed me are Salinger’s Nine Stories and Daniyal Mueenuddin’s In Other Rooms, Other Wonders.

It has been said that literary novels lack plots. Do you think literary novelists should put more emphasis on plot and less on stylistics? Why do you think there’s a perceived divide between popular and literary fiction?
I don’t know what to contribute to this debate. Plot generates from the characters for me. I have no qualms with a quiet, internal plot. But I’m also up for a story that pulls me forward with tension and apprehension. I’m not engaged by literary works in which the stylistic acrobatics dominate at the cost of human insight. I can appreciate and admire the construct and envy the technique, but I prefer to feel the story as a whole, rather than be forced to intellectually spar with the writer.

I suppose the divide between popular and literary fiction is the depth of the story’s theme. But I don’t know that popular is to the exclusion of literary. I want fine writing. I personally want to feel something, whether that is from within the story or my response to the story or its form. I don’t want to be lied to. I want to be shown something or taken somewhere that I have never considered. Novelist Rana Dasgupta’s wish for his young daughter as she discovers fairy tales and fables is that she be awestruck. That’s what I want. I want to be awestruck.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

One Leg Too Few: Modern British Satire

TOM SYKES pays tribute to the British satirists whose unconventional language of laughter helped a country lighten up ... a little

WHAT DO YOU regard as being quintessentially British? Many people’s answer would be a conservative institution such as the Royal Family. However, for me, something more subversive springs to mind: our sense of humour. In the space of 50 years, British satire has journeyed from university backrooms to mainstream TV and film studios. On the way there, it destroyed deferential attitudes to the establishment and helped make Britain a more liberal and tolerant place. Not bad an achievement for people who wrote sketches about one-legged Tarzans.

Although literary satirists such as Swift and Pope were around two centuries ago, the story of the modern form begins at Cambridge University in the early 1960s. Peter Cook was a bright, suave modern languages student with a talent for reducing entire rooms of people to laughter. While president of the Footlights Club, a theatrical group that has turned out many comedy heroes, he formed the influential revue Beyond the Fringe with jazz pianist Dudley Moore, doctor and actor Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett, who would go on to a distinguished literary career. Beyond the Fringe smashed the conventions of live comedy with innovative musical numbers, absurdist monologues and madcap sketches, and took aim at sacred targets: Shakespeare, classical music, the army, the clergy, the police and, most controversially, politicians.

Cook’s impressions of the then Prime Minister Harold Macmillan prompted the kind of moral outrage that rock and roll had caused in the US just a few years before. No comedian—no one—had ever mocked the powerful in quite this way before.

Beyond the Fringe shaped the comedy landscape of Britain. Its success allowed Peter Cook to set up Private Eye magazine—still going strong today—and the Establishment comedy nightclub in London which hosted legendary performances by Lenny Bruce and Barry Humphries. The revue also paved the way for the birth of TV satire. The topical That Was the Week That Was (TW3) ran on the BBC between 1962 and 1963, fronted by the now-esteemed broadcaster David Frost, whom Peter Cook personally despised. Indeed, when Cook was asked in an interview, “What is your greatest regret?” he replied, “Saving David Frost from drowning.”

Nonetheless, TW3 served as a training ground for future members of perhaps the most important British TV comedy ever, Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Over 47 episodes, five films and numerous books and records the Pythons were every bit as barbed as Beyond the Fringe, though they added a surreal dimension to satire. They experimented with the visual possibilities of television, then still a young medium, Terry Gilliam’s pop art animations juxtaposed with zany locations, fake credit rolls and sudden fragments of slapstick. Skits recognised the world over include The Lumberjack Song, The Dead Parrot Sketch and The Ministry of Silly Walks in which John Cleese’s elastic-like legs bend and twist in unimaginably strange ways.

At around the same time, satire was penetrating the music scene. The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band confounded the four-piece pop group format of the time by having at least eight members playing odd instruments such as the gazoo, tuba and ukulele. On stage they were a bizarre combination of rock, performance art, cabaret and music hall. Their lead singer was the eccentric, ginger-bearded Vivian Stanshall who was as good a wordsmith as he was a frontman. The Bonzos turned establishment themes—empire, public schools, Oxbridge, sport, etc.—on their heads but also sent up the counterculture they were part of. In the Paul McCartney-produced I’m the Urban Spaceman (1968), Stanshall parodies the psychedelic argot of the time:

In the canyons of your mind
I will wander through your brain
To the ventricles of your heart, my dear
I’m in love with you again!

The Bonzos’ song, “Cool Britannia” (1967), was an ironic swipe at Britain’s newfound status as pop culture capital of the world:

Cool Britannia
Britannia, you are cool
Take a trip!
Britons ever ever ever
Shall be hip

Thirty years later, the phrase “Cool Britannia” was exploited by Tony Blair’s New Labour government to appeal to young voters. Had they still been together then, the Bonzos would have mercilessly lampooned that.

The next significant wave of satirists came in the early 1980s under the rubric of ‘alternative comedy’. Some, like Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, had graduated from the Cambridge Footlights. Others, like Alexei Sayle, Ben Elton and Dawn French, learned their trade on London’s stand-up circuit.

By the end of that decade, Chris Morris was working as a local radio DJ with a taste for pranks such as pumping helium into the newsroom during accident reports. Moving up to first BBC Radio 4 and then BBC TV, his oeuvre got more sophisticated. Morris took the surrealism-meets-caustic send-up formula and ran with it, mixing Dadaist euphemisms (example, for life-threatening injury read “quadrospazzed on a lifeglug”) with a savant’s grasp of the mechanics of modern broadcasting. He had a particular talent for using sound montages and psychedelic news-graphics to estrange and provoke the viewer.

Indeed, a record number of them complained about a 2001 episode of his series Brass Eye. Condemnation from MPs and the gutter press followed. The crowning scene from that episode is when a genuine member of the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) is asked to judge whether a series of fake artworks are obscene or not. It quickly transpires that there is no guiding logic whatsoever to the BBFC as their man flounders over increasingly silly images. Just at the moment when satire was becoming respectable with primetime programmes such as Have I Got News For You, Morris had proven it was still possible to shock post-Cook, Python et al.

The story of British satire ends in a way that symbolises how the nation has changed. Those enfants terrible who so piqued the authorities are now some of the most famous and well-loved people in Britain today: Stephen Fry, John Cleese, Sir David Frost, Michael Palin, Sir Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett. Peter Cook and Vivian Stanshall both died too young to be re-branded as national treasures, and we can only guess at whether one day Chris Morris will receive a knighthood. It seems unlikely at the moment, given that he recently directed a film farce about Al-Qaeda terrorists in the North of England.

Reproduced from the July-September 2011 issue of Quill magazine

Monday, August 08, 2011

The Taste of Simple Contentment

KENNY MAH discovers the simple joy of tucking into a plate of the deliciously spicy and evergreen nasi kandar

2001, The English Gardens, Munich, Germany
It’s summer. Our T-shirts are starting to stick to our bodies as we carry the dishes and the plastic containers deeper into the trees. Our skin is getting browner, a light sheen from our sweat and the sunblock. There is no breeze at all, just the rays from above. We don’t wear shades; we weren’t going to miss this beautiful day.

My friends and I—a tiny Benetton ad flying the colours of our host Deutschland, Italy, Denmark, Greece, the United States and of course, Malaysia—are having a picnic in the park. It’s summer, nothing unusual about this. Well, other than the fact that instead of barbecuing burgers and hotdogs, we’re having nasi kandar.

And just in case you are wondering, the answer is no. Nasi kandar isn’t a native Bavarian dish.

1987, Bayan Lepas, Penang
“You’ve never had nasi kandar before?” my grandfather asks me. “How awful.”
I nod, in agreement. Though, all things considered, I don’t really have any basis for my concurrence, considering I had no idea what it was. Food, probably. I am eight years old. The world’s my oyster, if my mom could ever manage to get me to eat one.

Distracted grumblings on my mom’s deficiencies in having my palate properly instructed aside, my grandfather tells me he’s very glad he brought me along with him on this trip up north. If I haven’t had nasi kandar before, he assures me, then Penang’s definitely the place to have it.

“Do you know why?”

I shake my head.

With an excited gleam in his eye of someone who’s about to share A Very Big Secret, my grandfather leans over and whispers in my ear ...

“Because nasi kandar was invented here! In Penang! Here!”

Of course, my grandfather is partly deaf so this whisper had as much volume control as a trumpeting bull elephant drunk on toddy.

Cue my turn, as the dutiful grandson, to perform my filial task and ask, “Tell me the story, Ah Yeh. Tell me the story of how nasi kandar was invented, please?”

I am rather hungry at this point and would rather eat this mysterious nasi kandar, whatever it is, than discover its origins, but you have to humour your elders. Especially if they are paying for the meal.

“Well, if you insist. This is the story of nasi kandar ...”

1884, Georgetown, Penang
The grand hotel stands tall and gleaming white. A sentinel looking out on the Straits of Malacca. The guests are almost entirely British, so the hotel is decked out in the precise manner that is expected of it. In time to come this will be known as the colonial style, but for now, its Armenian owners, the quartet of enterprising Sarkie Brothers, they know it only as the style that brings in money.

The brothers call their little goldmine, the Eastern Hotel, but none of the labourers they employ to build its twin, the future Oriental Hotel, knows either of these names. Why would they? They are illiterate, after all.

This is a job, nothing more. None of them will step inside the hotel once it’s complete. Now it’s only brick upon brick. They lay down the foundation. They work all morning and by noon, they are hungry. No carefully sliced pieces of cold roast for them. No chilled glasses of sparkling white wine. No endless sets of coordinated cutlery on pristine white tablecloth. For them, it’s down to basics.

Until the nasi kandar man arrives. An Indian Muslim, a strapping chap who deftly navigates the sporadically arranged wooden planks that provide the path to the workers while somehow preventing his wisp of a sarong from undoing itself and creating a mishap in more ways than one. Then there’s the minor challenge of balancing the mangrove pole upon both shoulders, a heavy pot balanced in a basket at each end.

He finally reaches his hungry customers, sets his pole or kandar down, rewraps his faded sarong which has seen better days, and gets down to the business of feeding them. From one pot, plate after plate of hot, steaming white rice. And onto these plates, ladles of spicy curry and meat from the other pot. Scoop, ladle, repeat.

And soon, the sounds of the future being constructed have given way to the amiable silence of a brotherhood of men eating their lunch with their fingers. The taste of nasi kandar is the taste of simple contentment.

2011, Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, Kuala Lumpur
The line is starting to wind around the block, getting longer by the minute. A couple of Australians in front of me, from their accents, sport reddish tans under their short shirtsleeves. A gaggle of office workers behind me are gabbing away happily in Malay and Hokkien. Looks like we got here just in time. It’s lunchtime.

This is one of the many great houses of nasi kandar in Kuala Lumpur. One of the older ones, one of the few that hasn’t been transformed into a sprawling chain of restaurants spread across the country. This shop remains small, housed in its original location. They certainly haven’t swept the ceiling for cobwebs in a decade or two.

Still, the changes are there. Gone are the sarongs and the kayu kandar—the pole that gives the rice dish its name. All that’s left of the nasi kandar man is a portrait iconised in the shop’s signage.

The place is air-conditioned now. Uniformed waiters with bristly, moustachioed smiles now wear hygienic little caps as they bustle about taking orders for drinks, which are almost always a limau ais (iced lime) or a teh tarik.

And at the end of the queue, not unlike a pot of gold at the foot of the rainbow, are countless choices of delicious dishes: fish head curry, lamb korma, masala crabs, fried chicken and fried fish roe, beef rendang, spicy brinjal and ladies’ fingers, prawn sambal, soy sauce beef, dry curried bitter gourd, mutton curry, cuttlefish, catfish and cockles.

We make our choices and the server adds them to our plates, not forgetting to flood the mounds of rice with a generous splash from every curry pot. The mix is quite messy but tastes marvellous.

Nasi kandar used to feed poor immigrant workers from China and India. Today, it is a feast for everyone.

2001, The English Gardens, Munich, Germany
A picnic is supposed to be a social activity, a time for getting together and sharing stories and foods. We share what sustains us, what feeds us. And sometimes our food is our story.

I shared the idea for a nasi kandar picnic with my summer university mates last week and everyone loved the concept. We all bring something from our own countries and we’ll all share everything. Apostolis has some horiatiki, a Greek salad of tomatoes, feta cheese, olives, cucumber and red onion in an olive oil dressing. Maria offers some of Germany’s best sausages—from the pork-and-marjoram-flavoured Nürnberger Bratwurst to the delicate yet hearty veal-based Weisswurst.

The two Mikes from Chicago make us laugh when they turn up with French fries and Chicken McNuggets from the local McDonald’s. Thor brings beer—not Danish beer, but the best Bavarian beer Deutschmarks can buy—deliciously cool Paulaner Weißbier. Manuel wraps things up with some smoky rolled pancetta and also, prosciutto from Parma.

And me? I cooked rice, of course. Pure steamed white rice, kept piping hot in the rice cooker pot. Let’s not forget a Chinese-style chicken-and-potato curry and some Indian lamb masala curry. Just like the real nasi kandar man would, I ladled plenty of both curries over the rice and we ate it with the odd assortment of foods that we all had brought. Not quite the same as what is found back home, but who’s to say it isn’t right?

I persuade some of them to try scooping up the curry-soaked rice with their fingers. Some manage to get a few grains into their mouths before bursting out into laughter. I think of my grandfather and my first nasi kandar meal we shared, and I know this is how it’s supposed to feel.

This is the taste of real nasi kandar, the taste of simple contentment.

Reproduced from the July-September 2011 issue of Quill magazine

Monday, August 01, 2011

August 2011 Highlights

1. The Good Muslim (Harper, 2011) / Tahmima Anam
2. The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress (Europa Editions, 2011) / Beryl Bainbridge
3. I Gave My Heart to Know This (Random House, 2011) / Ellen Baker
4. The Sense of an Ending (Jonathan Cape/Random House, 2011) / Julian Barnes
5. On Canaan’s Side (Faber & Faber, 2011) / Sebastian Barry
6. Lazarus Is Dead (Harvill Secker, 2011) / Richard Beard
7. Drowning Rose (Bloomsbury, 2011) / Marika Cobbold
8. The Year After (Hodder & Stoughton, 2011) / Martin Davies
9. Lucky Bunny (Sceptre, 2011) / Jill Dawson
10. Sherbrookes (Dalkey Archive Press, 2011) / Nicholas Delbanco

11. The Artist of Disappearance (Chatto & Windus, 2011) / Anita Desai
12. Wild Abandon (Hamish Hamilton, 2011) / Joe Dunthorne
13. In the Sea There Are Crocodiles: Based on the True Story of Enaiatollah Akbari (trans. from the Italian by Howard Curtis) (Doubleday, 2011) / Fabio Geda
14. Say Her Name (Grove Press/Atlantic Monthly Press, 2011) / Francisco Goldman
15. The Magician King (Viking Adult, 2011) / Lev Grossman
16. Our Lady of Alice Bhatti (Jonathan Cape, 2011) / Mohammed Hanif
17. Lasting Damage (Hodder & Stoughton, 2011) / Sophie Hannah
18. Shooting Angels (Atlantic Books, 2011) / Christopher Hope
19. Season of Darkness (McClelland & Stewart, 2011) / Maureen Jennings
20. Train Dreams (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011) / Denis Johnson

21. A World Elsewhere (Knopf Canada/Random House Canada, 2011) / Wayne Johnston
22. The Translation of the Bones (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2011) / Francesca Kay
23. The Blue Book (Jonathan Cape, 2011) / A.L. Kennedy
24. A Murder in Tuscany (Minotaur/St. Martin’s Press, 2011) / Christobel Kent
25. The Most Dangerous Thing (Morrow/HarperCollins Publishers, 2011) / Laura Lipton
26. The Twelfth Enchantment (Random House, 2011) / David Liss
27. Childish Loves (Faber & Faber/W.W. Norton, 2011) / Benjamin Markovits
28. Anatomy of a Disappearance (The Dial Press/Random House, 2011) / Hisham Matar
29. Far From My Father’s House (Blue Door/HarperCollins, 2011) / Jill McGivering
30. The Call (Harper Perennial, 2011) / Yannick Murphy

31. The Cat’s Table (McClelland & Stewart/Jonathan Cape, 2011) / Michael Ondaatje
32. The Buddha in the Attic (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011) / Julie Otsuka
33. The Cut (Reagan Arthur Books, 2011) / George Pelecanos
34. The Invisible Ones (Quercus, 2011) / Stef Penney
35. A Trick of the Light (Minotaur Press/St. Martin’s Press, 2011) / Louise Penny
36. The Leftovers (St. Martin’s Press, 2011) / Tom Perrotta
37. The Summer of the Bear (Mantle, 2011) / Bella Pollen
38. The Vault (Hutchinson, 2011) / Ruth Rendell
39. Before the Poison (Hodder & Stoughton, 2011) / Peter Robinson
40. The Emperor of Lies (trans. from the Swedish by Sarah Death) (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011) / Steve Sem-Sandberg

41. Luminarium (SoHo Press, 2011) / Alex Shakar
42. Blow on a Dead Man’s Embers (Canongate Books, 2011) / Mari Strachan
43. Two for Sorrow (HarperCollins Publishers, 2011) / Nicola Upson
44. The Submission (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011) / Amy Waldman
45. Salvage the Bones (Bloomsbury USA, 2011) / Jesmyn Ward
46. The Gentleman’s Hour (Simon & Schuster, 2011) / Don Winslow
47. Show Up, Look Good (Gival Press, 2011) / Mark Wisniewski
48. Obedience (Atlantic Books, 2011) / Jacqueline Yallop

First Novels
1. My Former Heart (Fourth Estate, 2011) / Cressida Connolly
2. The Language of Flowers (Ballantine Books/Macmillan, 2011) / Vanessa Diffenbaugh
3. Shelter (Random House Canada, 2011) / Frances Greenslade
4. Leaving the Atocha Station (Coffee House Press, 2011) / Ben Lerner
5. You Deserve Nothing (Tonga Books/Europa Editions, 2011) / Alexander Maksik
6. Solace (Picador, 2011) / Belinda McKeon
7. We the Animals (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011) / Justin Torres
8. The Submission (Farrar, Straus & Giroux/William Heinemann, 2011) / Amy Waldman
9. The Echo Chamber (Viking, 2011) / Luke Williams

1. One Thousand and One Nights (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2011) / Hanan Al-Shaykh
2. Alice (trans. from the German by Margot Bettauer Dembo) (The Clerkenwell Press, 2011) / Judith Hermann
3. We Others: New and Selected Stories (Knopf Doubleday, 2011) / Steven Millhauser
4. Apricot Jam and Other Stories (trans. from the Russian by Kenneth Lantz) (Counterpoint, 2011) / Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
5. The Complete Short Stories (Canongate, 2011) / Muriel Spark

1. Black Cat Bone (Jonathan Cape, 2011) / John Burnside
2. Come, Thief (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011) / Jane Hirshfield
3. The Wrecking Light (Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011) / Robin Robertson
4. Odd Blocks: New and Selected Poems (Carcanet Press, 2011) / Kay Ryan
5. Selected Poems (ed. Matthew Hollis) (Faber & Faber, 2011) / Edward Thomas

1. Travels: Collected Writings, 1950-1993 (Ecco, 2011) / Paul Bowles
2. Just One Catch: The Passionate Life of Joseph Heller (St. Martin’s Press, 2011) / Tracy Daugherty
3. George Mackay Brown: The Wound and the Gift (Saint Andrew Press, 2011) / Ron Ferguson
4. City of Fortune: How Venice Won and Lost a Naval Empire (Faber & Faber, 2011) / Roger Crowley
5. Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness (Penguin USA, 2011) / Alexandra Fuller
6. All Made Up (Granta Books, 2011) / Janice Galloway
7. Now All Roads Lead to France: The Last Years of Edward Thomas (Faber & Faber, 2011) / Matthew Hollis
8. A Book of Secrets: Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011) / Michael Holroyd
9. Literary Brooklyn: The Writers of Brooklyn and the Story of American City Life (Holt Paperbacks, 2011) / Evan Hughes
10. The End: Hitler’s Germany, 1944-45 (Allen Lane, 2011) / Ian Kershaw

11. Ghosts of Empire: Britain’s Legacies in the Modern World (Bloomsbury, 2011) / Kwasi Kwarteng
12. The Friar of Carcossonne: Revolt Against the Inquisition in the Last Days of the Cathars (Profile Books, 2011) / Stephen O’Shea
13. Colour Me English (Harvill Secker/New Press, 2011) / Caryl Phillips
14. Harlem is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black America (Granta Books, 2011) / Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts
15. Scribble, Scribble, Scribble: Writing on Ice Cream, Obama, Churchill and My Mother (Bodley Head, 2011) / Simon Schama
16. That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2011) / Anne Sebba
17. Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia (Faber & Faber, 2011) / Thant Myint-U
18. India: The Road Ahead (Rider, 2011) / Mark Tully