Coetzee here, Amis there, the solid book in between
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There's nothing in a literature festival more literarily stimulating than the carnival atmosphere. Plenty of words, wordplay, a couple of Nobel laureates but without the sense of magnitude and detail — crowds, durbars, tents, tented lawns, tainted halls and painted faces — how would the global zeitgeist be captured even by the convergence of so much literary genius on a historic locale for colour, continuity and mock controversy? Are these writers on holiday, or writers at work?
A fitting question when every step you take can be crisscrossed by J M Coetzee walking to and from venues, with his sensitive look and sharp, detached eyes, dodging anybody remotely resembling a journalist. You may be tempted to sneakily click a snap, knowing that's as far as you will get to this high priest who very, very rarely sits for an interview. (And Martin Amis, never shy of a chat, is not talking after an "incident" on Day 1 as the excuse goes.)
But Day 2 at the Jaipur Literature Festival, which saw H M Naqvi get the first-ever DSC Prize for South Asian Literature for his Home Boy, brought out that essential incompleteness and turbulence in the global story of literature — anxieties about the future of the book, concluding on the affirmation that the book matters and will last irrespective of its mutations.
Kiran Desai set the book in perspective in a morning session calling it the "one solid thing" in an age of television and Internet where fast words go over everybody's head. Desai's enduring, intimate object, "a hand that you can hold", should survive the anxiety in the West about the death of the book, as John Makinson, CEO of Penguin, put it. Makinson himself thinks it's the opposite — it's time to enlarge and enfranchise new audiences.
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