Thursday, April 4, 2019

Rajeev Balasubramanyam

Rajeev Balasubramanyam’s first novel, In Beautiful Disguises won a Betty Trask Prize and was nominated for the Guardian First Fiction Prize. In 2004 he was awarded the Clarissa Luard Prize for the best British writer under the age of 35.

Balasubramanyam holds a PhD in English, and degrees from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. He has lived in London, Manchester, a remote Suffolk beach, Berlin, Kathmandu, and Hong Kong, where he was a Research Scholar in the Society of Scholars at Hong Kong University. He is a currently a fellow of the Hemera Foundation, for writers with a meditation practice, and has been writer in residence at Crestone Zen Mountain Center and the Zen Center of New York City.

Balasubramanyam’s new novel is Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I’m actually reading The Godfather by Mario Puzo. It was an accident. I was exhausted and everything I tried reading bored me. I thought about Stephen King but couldn’t face it, and then I thought about watching a film but didn’t want the visual stimulation, which can stop me from sleeping. I slipped, fell against the bookshelf, knocked a bunch of books to the floor, and The Godfather was the one that landed face up.

I’m enjoying it, mostly; the misogyny can be difficult at times (the test I usually use is “could a woman have written this sentence?” – Puzo frequently strains credulity); the violence isn’t; but as with a lot of gangster movies, none of the characters are truly sympathetic; it’s a world of sociopaths and psychopaths. It’s terribly, terribly Indian, the truly disturbing emphasis that’s placed on family, the borderline incestuous relationships between practically all family members, the absence of freedom or boundaries, the intermingling of love and abuse, the Freudian obsession with food, the sanctity of marriage and the grotesque hypocrisy this entails, the way the patriarchy is almost a character in the book (it’s no coincidence, to me, that it’s called the Godfather, il padrino, which is almost, almost “The Patriarch”); the way men can be tremendously emotional and tremendously unfeeling, almost in the same breath.

I like the ways he handles the omniscient narrative, moving around his world smoothly, revealing that it’s not about individuals; that this is how humans are, like it or not; if it wasn’t them it’d be someone else; it’s a system; it’s structural; it’s where we are as a species, a society – we lust for power. "It’s a good novel to read given the world today; it makes you remember that the ills of the world aren’t due to Putin or Trump but the system, and the system didn’t create itself. We created it. There’s no point judging; either we accept it, or we evolve. This is the way it is. This is what gangster movies tell us, over and over again.
Visit Rajeev Balasubramanyam's website.

--Marshal Zeringue