Monday, October 4, 2010

Gyan Prakash

Gyan Prakash is the Dayton-Stockton Professor of History at Princeton University. He is the author of Bonded Histories and Another Reason (Princeton University Press) and the editor of Noir Urbanisms. His new book is Mumbai Fables.

About ten days ago I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I am currently reading Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s fabulous novel, The Shadow of the Wind, having just finished reading his immensely imaginative and enjoyable The Angel’s Game. I did not know about him, and picked up The Angel’s Game quite by chance at the airport as something to read on a long intercontinental flight. And what a nice accidental pick it was! The time passed by quickly as I fell completely under the spell cast by Zafón’s story of a writer who lives by writing sensationalist crime stories under a pseudonym. As the writer digs beneath surface appearances to find deeper truths about the world around him, things became more mysterious and magical, and yet believable. The novel uses the conceit of the mystery genre, but the resolution does not result in clarification but more mist and murk, and strangely moving reflections on writing.

So enchanted was I by the novel’s ingeniously conjured up fables behind fables that I moved immediately to The Shadow of the Wind, which I learnt was published earlier and to which The Angel’s Game stands as a prequel. I am through the first 100 pages, and I am already captivated. It opens with Daniel Sempere, a young boy, taken by his bookseller father to the “The Cemetery of Forgotten Books,” which makes a cameo appearance in The Angel’s Game. Daniel is asked to pick a book to adopt. He chooses The Shadow of the Wind. This choice – an obscure book, written by an author with a mysterious history – sets up the basis for yet another tale of dark discoveries. But I have just begun, and am looking forward to once again losing myself in Zafón’s world of shadows and mists.

Zafón’s writing is unpretentious, and the humour is self-deprecatory, ironic, and completely unforced. Most of all, I like the way he delves into surface realities to make them more enigmatic and yet plausible. There is a hint of Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, which is all to the good.
Read an excerpt from Mumbai Fables, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue