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Arts & Letters, April 2018

Book review ‘Who Even

Book review ‘Who Even Cares Who Cares?’: A kaleidoscopic journey into reality •Mir Arif Published by Bengal Publications, Rafee Shaams’ Who Even Cares Who Cares? is a collection of short stories studded with magical occurrences. As is often seen in magic realist writing, there are ghosts, disappearances, miracles and extraordinary talents. Deeply affected by a changing social reality and its corruption, Shaams creates his own imagined spaces delving into the time and reality around him. But the novelty in Shaams’ spaces is his narrative pattern and use of diction, which he derives from the cyber world and many other sources of his time. The first story, “Brothers in the City,” recounts the lives of two brothers – Rocket and Bullet – who live in a village but are banished by their father to move to the city. Jealousy creates a rift between the brothers, leading them to betrayal and death, but they are saved miraculously by the Dictator, a character that appears in other stories as well. The same Dictator in “Copsychus Saularis” recites his couplets and gifts people with cows, his favorite ploy for mythologizing his leadership and silencing the horrors perpetrated during his regime. This story revolves around the love story between Shahi and Sherry. The former is believed to be a djinn by Sherry’s parents, though Shahi himself desires to be an otherworldly creature to meet his beloved anytime he wishes. But it is not the desire of a ghostly existence or its duality that makes this story interesting; it is the writer’s ability to come up with something magical and embed it into his story like a reality, which is one of the salient facets of magic realist writing. Sherry pets a magpie robin that acts as an element of surprise in the story. Following other events in the plot, the couple is forced to get separated. Crestfallen, Shahi buys a magpie robin from the bazaar, a dear creature of his beloved, but soon it flies out of the cage. The following section describes how Sherry chases the bird: “He ran and ran. The bird almost seemed to be aware that it was being followed and flew in constant speed, changing directions with geometric perfection: leaving behind roads and trucks and Flexiload banners and houses with potted plants and balconies with girls waiting for their lovers and skies full of crows flurrying in chaotic dance routines and outdoor barbershops and bus stops where buses never stopped, only to stop in front of an old building and land on Sherry’s arm, who was mindlessly watching the sky from the building’s second floor.” The narrative waxes poetic and the magic (one cannot possibly run after a bird for such a long period) fleshes out to become real. His djinns in other stories – constructed or real: Dola in “Who Even Cares Who Cares?”, a girl of a hujur (Islamic priest) who lives an almost invisible life; and a djinn girl from the mythical land of Rupsluug in “Jinns Rarely Take the Taxi”, who apparently has fallen in love with the narrator, or so thinks the narrator – reflect on many aspects of our lives: romance, desire, silence and disappearance. Shaams’ magic stems from the deep root of the real, and this is why his stories are important. Some of his stories, “Things Happen,” “Easy to Upload Sadness” and “Pause,” satirize the reality and truth in a highly bureaucratized world, which is often manipulated by people in power. Shaams plays around with reality, warping it and twisting it to the point where its very nature becomes an allegory for the failings of society. Who Even Cares Who Cares? is a fascinating read indeed.• 'Six Seasons Review': Spring issue Mir Arif is a fiction writer. He works with Arts & Letters. 18 •Mir Arif With a rich collection of poetry, prose and artworks from both established and talented new writers around the world, the current issue of Six Seasons Review (New Series, Volume 4, Number 1), published by Bengal Publications, is a treat to readers who keep themselves abreast of English writing in Bangladesh. It features 15 stories, 35 poems, three artworks and one nonfiction piece. The cover design – pendant light bulbs on wires hanging from a yellow background – by Jahangir Palash makes it aesthetically appealing. The issue begins with “The Great Divorce” by Shehtaz Huq, a story of Tasneem, who, against all odds, leads a happy life in a one-bedroom apartment in Virginia after divorce. Harlan Yarbrough offers a good story in “Lonnie’s Prayer,” a love story about a professional country singer, Ross, and a recently graduated mathematician, Rosanna. Nadeem Zaman gives us a compelling story to sink into. His “Eavesdroppers” centers around the lives of a childless couple and their friends who like to pry into an ever-quarrelling neighboring couple – Rahat and Rubina Qureshi – in an attempt to forget their own problems in life. Other standouts in fiction are: “Points” by Anika Saba; “The Faridpur Incident” by Neeman Sobhan; “Burning Man” by David Schultz; “Exile at Ashville” by Sohana Manzoor and “Last Days of the Dictator” by Hasan Al Zayed. However, with most of the fiction so genuine, one can expect the poetry to follow suit. The most interesting feature of the poetry section is three poems by Sudeep Sen, a poet, translator and editor based in India. His triptych – “Driftwood,” “Acrostic” and “Sigrid” – pays tribute to Derek Walcott, a Saint Lucian poet and playwright, and winner of 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature, who died last year. Bengt Berg’s poems, “Realization” and “Get Ready for a New Day,” meditate on the forces of the natural world. Other poems of note are: “Writer’s Block” by Sayeeda T Ahmad; “Go Fish” and “Vacation Hexing” by Les Wicks; “Hashtags” by Anjana Basu; “Beloved” by Khadija Rouf; and “In Court with the Stars and “To Readers, Everywhere” by Indran Amirthanayagam. The only nonfiction piece, “Proverbs” by Humayun Azad in Rajib Ahmed’s translation, is also an interesting piece of reading. The art section of this edition is equally charged and interesting. “Working Class Superheroes” and “Quirks in Chaos” by Kazi Istela Imam; and “Untitled – A Comic about Nothing” by Syed Rashad Imam Tanmoy are three such artworks to look out for. A wide variety of works from around the world make the current issue of Six Seasons Review unique. At the same time, it offers a welcoming platform for aspiring and talented writers from Bangladesh, fostering the growing corpus of Bangladeshi writing in English. • ARTS & LETTERS SATURDAY, APRIL 14, 2018 | DHAKA TRIBUNE

The life and times of Mario Vargas Llosa Book review •Arts & Letters Desk Raju Alauddin, a poet and translator, translates into Bangla from original Spanish works of Latin American fiction writers. He also writes essays and scholarly articles on masters such as Jorges Luis Borges, Gabriel García Márquez and Carlos Fuentes, among many others. But this time he’s shifted his focus on Mario Vargas Llosa and translated a unique coffee table book on the writer, enriched both with biographical snippets and analytical notes on his fiction. Though Bangla translation of some of his stories and novels is available in Bangladesh, scholarly works on his life and works are rarely seen. Razu’s translation will fill in that gap. Mario Vargas Llosa is a distinct name in world literature. This Peruvian writer is a winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature. In his fictional works, he’s portrayed stories and lives of people from many parts of the world. His books have been translated into more than 30 languages. Widely admired for his mastery over the psychology of his characters, he is regarded as one of the biggest and most widely read authors after Borges and Márquez. Published by Sakkhat Publication, the book, Mario Vargas Llosar Jibon O Mithyar Satya, is a rare collection of photographs showing many aspects of Llosa’s life as well as his literary career. It is different from other books on Llosa. Not focusing on bland, encyclopedic description, it highlights rare events of the writer’s life with photos and text. It has been translated from the original Spanish, Mario Vargas Llosa: La vida y la libertad. However, in the Bangla version, Raju has added some additional chapters alongside the original ones, which will help readers to learn Llosa’s life in greater detail. Born in 1936 in the southern Peruvian provincial city of Arequipa, Llosa began working as an amateur journalist for tabloid newspapers at the age of 16. At 23, he published his first short story collection, Los jefes. His first novel, La ciudad y los perros, was published when he was 26 years old. It earned him the Premio Biblioteca Breve award, the youngest ever recipient of the award. Though he wrote novels prolifically, his works also include essays, plays, stories and poems. The first chapter of the book in Raju’s translation, “Jibon Bidrohi Ek Toruner Protidin,” sheds light on his early life, from his childhood to 2007. Llosa fans will learn about his lives in different cities of the world: Arequipa, Cochabamba, Peura, Lima, Madrid, Paris, London and Barcelona. The second chapter features photos collected by Llosa, and also details his early stories, plays and student life. The third chapter includes Llosa’s list of favorite writers: William Faulkner, Gustave Flaubert, Thomas Mann, Victor Hugo, Leo Tolstoy, Juan Carlos Onetti, Miguel de Cervantes and Jorge Luis Borges. Readers will learn Llosa’s impression of these great writers with a comprehensive list of awards and recognition received by him. Llosa was into politics and participated in the presidential election from Frente Democrático in 1990. The chapter, “Rajniti,” records his political philosophy, with pictorial depictions of his campaign, rallies and processions. Llosa also had a brilliant journalistic career, working with different magazines, newspapers and international dailies. As a journalist, he worked in France and the Middle East; he also worked as a TV journalist. His observation on journalism is precious: “Journalism is the highest independent work, a way to know recent issues and problems. There is no alternative to journalism in strengthening democracy and ensuring justice.” The book discusses Llosa’s journalistic stint and photographs in Israel, Iraq and Palestine. The book includes The Paris Review’s long interview of Llosa by Ricardo Augusto Setti. It has a chapter named “Birol Songjojon,” which contains Llosa’s rare works that have not been translated into any language, not even into English. Interestingly enough, the book contains his essay, “Weaker Sex,” which delves into issues of women in Bangladesh. This is indeed a timely venture in our translation, which is sure to broaden the horizon of Latin American fiction in our country. It will also come in handy when researching Llosa’s fiction. • ‘Silent Noise’: Celebrating everydayness •Zarin Rafiuddin The stories in Jackie Kabir’s Silent Noise have an element of everydayness to them. Their titles wrap around this. From “Mundane Monday” to “The Visit” and “Arshi,” the stories are about ordinary people and ordinary lives. Yet, Kabir shows, the ordinary and everydayness is not as simplistic and uncomplicated as people think it is. Her stories begin with a certain sense of anxiousness or relaxation that seems to be what anyone living in a city or quiet town can relate to, only to transform in a few sentences the ending into something unexpected, even puzzling or sad sometimes. This is the impression that one is left with, upon reading this anthology. The feelings and themes are known to most readers as they strike down to the heart of the matter. And, from experience, we know that the heart of the matter can be convoluted or even emotionally frustrating. Some stories are sweet and succinct, offering another interpretation of life while others start on a happy note but end with such a discordant tune that it rings in your ears. Some of these tales seem inspired by newspaper articles of some real incident that happened somewhere in Bangladesh. One such story is “Undesired Desire,” which brings out the perspective of a woman who’s a victim of a sexual assault. In a culture where women are readily blamed for the trauma and abuse inflicted on them, the story captures how a young girl is full of excitement and expectations before meeting a prospective lover only to have that dream shattered. In this story, Kabir is subtly raising questions about the patriarchal norms that perpetrate and justify such assaults. A similar question is addressed in “Arshi,” but in a completely different, almost perplexing way. I can understand the character of Arshi well; she is the sort of woman whom people avoid for societal conventions. She is an aged woman who's still a bachelor; so, people start defining her as apathetic, selfish and materialistic. Arshi doesn’t seem to care, though, that people are avoiding her, but she does suffer as her inner life and past are never understood. When readers are at the end of the story, we can comprehend that Kabir’s metaphor of the flower which is pure but attracts the snake implies who Arshi is. Yet, people would remain in the dark about this as they never tried to know the truth about her. In these stories, Kabir explores the emotions and queries people usually have when confronting the unexpected. This is a book that celebrates everydayness, and Kabir shows that everydayness is not so mundane after all.• Zarin Rafiuddin reviews books for Arts & Letters. She also writes about films and literature. 19 DHAKA TRIBUNE | SATURDAY, APRIL 14, 2018 ARTS & LETTERS

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