Friday, March 28, 2003

And, speaking of Sir Vidia: Outlook India recently ran an interview with Patrick French, Naipaul's authorised biographer, which contains a few tasty tidbits of Naipauliana, such as:

Is it true that Naipaul told you, "Don't let the New Yorker worry you. The New Yorker knows nothing about writing. Nothing."

(Laughs) Actually, nobody knows the punch line was after that: "Writing an article there is like posting a letter in a Venezuelan postbox. Nobody's going to read it!" He meant it was a publication for which there's more reverence than readership.


But the part of the interview that most interested me was French's explanation for why he was chosen to write what will surely turn out to be the juiciest literary biography of the decade:

Naipaul read my work, saw I had a seriousness about my writing. I had some experience and knowledge of both India and Britain, which for him is crucial. How on earth can you write a biography of Naipaul if you don’t understand something about both societies?

Of course, experience & knowledge of the West Indies was not thought terribly relevant, the first two decades of VSN's life being of no consequence whatever....
"One often reads that the novel is dead or dying, and that the only books that are bought in bulk deal either with cooking or football...

"One hundred years ago, only 10% of the population ever devoured what is alluded to as serious literature. It is my belief that things haven't changed; nor should we wish it otherwise.

"All the arts--music and painting and the written word--are by their very nature elitist, which is why they have such power to enrich our lives."

-- Beryl Bainbridge, speaking at the David Cohen British literature award ceremony last night. She shares this year's prize with Thom Gunn. (This is the first time in the award's ten-year existence that it has been shared between two writers. Readers with longish memories may recall that the first winner of the Cohen award, back in 1993, was V.S. Naipaul.) This U.K. Guardian report quotes a brief passage from Bainbridge's novel The Birthday Boys, & Gunn's poem "Elvis Presley".

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

A couple of hours earlier we were at a shop and a woman said as she was leaving, and this is a very common sentence, "we'll see you tomorrow if god keeps us alive" -- itha allah khalana taibeen -- and the whole place just freezes. She laughed nervously and said she didn't mean that, and we all laughed but these things start having a meaning beyond being figures of speech.

-- Salam Pax, writing today from Baghdad.

Monday, March 17, 2003

impossibly long lines in front of gas stations last night, some even had two police cars in front of them to make sure no "incidents" occur.
the price of bottled water jumped up 3 fold....
rumors of defaced pictures of Saddam in Dorah and Thawra Districts (maybe maybe not)
and the cities of Rawa and Anna are so full of people now you wouldn't find a hut to rent, it was pretty safe to be there during the first war and people who have the money are renting places there hoping that it will be safe this time.
the dinar is hovering around the 2700 per dollar and the hottest items after the "particle-masks" are earplugs, they can't be found in shops and you have to pre-order.

-- Salam Pax, writing from Baghdad on Iraq's last day of grace.
A poem for this St. Patrick's Day:

The Valley of the Black Pig

The dews drop slowly and dreams gather: unknown spears
Suddenly hurtle before my dream-awakened eyes,
And then the clash of fallen horseman and the cries
Of unknown perishing armies beat about my ears.
We who still labour by the cromlech on the shore,
The grey cairn on the hill, when day sinks drowned in dew,
Being weary of the world's empires, bow down to you,
Master of the still stars and of the flaming door.

-- W.B. Yeats.