Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Samrat Upadhyay

Samrat Upadhyay is the Director of the Creative Writing Program at Indiana University--Bloomington. His first book, the short story collection Arresting God in Kathmandu (Houghton Mifflin, 2001) was the recipient of a Whiting Writers' Award as well as a pick for the 2001 Barnes & Noble Discover Great Writers Program.

Upadhyay's novel The Guru of Love (Houghton Mifflin, 2003) was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year 2003, a San Franciso Chronicle Best Book of 2003, and a BookSense 76 collection. The novel was also a finalist for the 2004 Kiriyama Prize.

Upadyhyay's story collection, The Royal Ghosts (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), won the 2007 Asian American Literary Award, the Society of Midland Authors Book Award, and was declared a Best of Fiction in 2006 by the Washington Post. The book was also a finalist for the Frank O’Connor Int’l Short Story Award from Ireland and for the Ohioana Book Award.

His new novel, Buddha's Orphans (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), was published last month.

I recently asked Upadhyay what he was reading. His reply:
I am currently reading William Trevor’s The Story of Lucy Gault. I had read the novel when it first came out a few years ago, but I was drawn to it again recently after I found my graduate student Lana Spendl reading it on the trip to Nepal that I had organized. I snatched the book from her during a bus ride from Pokhara to Kathmandu. But reading Trevor in Nepal was hard not only because the bus rattled on the bad road but also because the congestion and the traffic noise around me made it difficult to focus on Trevor’s nuanced prose, which, to be understood and savored, requires a kind of tiger-like attention. So, I picked up the novel again when I returned to the States and have been reading it in my quiet town of Bloomington, Indiana.

Trevor is a master of the English prose, one of our finest storytellers. I’ve read almost all of his books. His short stories are to be admired and emulated. He is slightly less powerful as a novelist, but still better than many of his contemporaries. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly he establishes character and mood and emotional power within the first few pages of a novel. In The Story of Lucy Gault, by page five I felt I was in the thick of a story about a family in Ireland that’s torn apart due to circumstances that are both political and personal. And of course, Trevor’s prose has always made me want to weep with joy. Where else do you get to read a sentence like this: “Failing to rouse her from her sleep, her father’s single shot became, in a dream, the crack of a branch giving way to the wind.”

I am also reading Happiness by the French Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard. He has chapters with titles such as “Does Being Kind Make Us Happy?’ and “Happiness in the Presence of Death.” Good stuff.
Read an excerpt from Buddha's Orphans, and learn more about the book at the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt website.

--Marshal Zeringue