Monday, 25 November 2013

Live Like a Stoic for a Week

Love this philosophical experiment: live like a Stoic for a week and see if it improves your happiness.

There was a great debate on Radio 4 this morning, with a Stoicist extolling the virtues of a staid, stable, anger-free life, and a Stoic-skeptical philosopher defending passionate rage and anger as potentially useful emotions.

The central ideas of Stoicism don't seem particularly controversial (as far as I can tell from the Stoic Week website): pursue inner values such as virtue and excellence of character rather than external goals such as a good job, fame and money, and you will find greater satisfaction and contentment in life. Cultivate good emotions such as joy and delight, caution, discretion and concern for the wellbeing of others, while uprooting unhealthy emotions such as anger and irritation.

The basic principle seems to be that we can control our emotions and our inner state, even if we can't control external factors. This sounds remarkably like modern Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and various branches of happiness research. It also reminds me of a book on Jewish ethics I read recently (ok ok, it was actually a book about how to maintain a happy Jewish marriage by a rebbetzin called Esther Jungreis, and had been given to me by a relative, but it made some interesting broader ethical points about viewing people and their actions with a "good eye", ie in a positive light). The first exercise - morning meditation - is very much like morning prayer, and probably a good way of preparing yourself for the day ahead and mapping out the day more purposefully. I would say it's a particularly good idea if you're a writer: mentally rehearsing your creative project for the day gives it a certain shape and helps you develop strength and focus.

From the Stoic Week site - though I'm not sure why "cost of tuition" is in the circle of no control. Does Stoicism mean having to accept the status quo? What about social change, righteous anger channelled into good causes, street protests against unpopular policies - such as high tuition fees at universities?

I used to think of Stoicism as rather deadly - a passion-free, tempered life that avoids the highs as well as the lows. Then again, the one happy Stoic I met was our pekinese, Daisy, who had a calm and satisfied way of staring into the middle distance while savouring her inner peace. Her passions only ran high at dinner time. So I may try to do some of the exercises and see if it takes me to a pekinese-like state of bliss. With this in mind, here's the first exercise from the Stoic Week Handbook, courtesy of Exeter University:

Early-Morning Meditation

When you wake up each morning, take a few moments to compose yourself and then patiently rehearse the day ahead, planning how you can make yourself a better person, while also accepting that some things lie beyond your control.

1.          Marcus Aurelius talks about walking on one's own to a quiet place at daybreak and meditating upon the stars and the rising Sun, preparing for the day ahead. You can also do this at home, sitting on the end of your bed, or standing in front of the mirror in your bathroom, and still think of the sun rising against a backdrop of stars.

2.          Pick a specific philosophical principle that you want to rehearse and repeat it to yourself a few times before imagining how you could put it into practice during the rest of the day. You might choose the key general Stoic theme: “Some things are under our control whereas others are not”, and to think about giving more importance to being a good person and acting well and treating things you cannot control as ultimately much less important.

3.          Alternatively, you might pick a specific virtue that you want to cultivate and prepare yourself mentally for your day ahead, in broad outline, imagining how you would act if you showed more wisdom, justice, courage, or moderation.

4.          Practise this meditation for about 5-10 minutes, picking out key events or specific challenges that might arise. 

Monday, 18 November 2013

Art Theft: The Last Unsolved Nazi Crime

The Atlantic just published my piece on the murky legal situation around Nazi-looted art: 
Thanks to the Internet, more and more Jewish families are tracking down paintings that were stolen by the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s. But in many cases, the art has simply become the private property of its new owners.

It's a difficult situation as the new owners may by now feel equally entitled to the pieces (eg if they bought them quite recently in good faith). Often, a discreet private settlement between the two parties seems like the most acceptable solution. On the other hand, as one expert noted, restitution does not mean compensation: it means handing back the physical object.

There are obvious similarities to the claims over forced labour and other painful struggles for late justice, or at least some acknowledgement of past suffering. The real question: why did it take governments, companies and institutions so long to address these issues?

Monday, 28 October 2013

Lou Reed & The Perfect (Shabbos) Day

"Born Lewis Allan Reed at the Beth El hospital in Brooklyn in 1942, Mr Reed was brought up in an upper middle-class Jewish family in Freeport, New York."

Bless the Jewish Chronicle for always finding the family angle. Lou Reed, pride of his yeshiva and author of "Walk on the Wild Side" (for 40 years, until you find the promised land).

Incidentally, my favourite JC headline of all times may be "Amy Winehouse: the last shalom".

Incidentally 2, I just spent a few days visiting a very orthodox part of my extended family and heard a wonderful exclamation/expression of surprise or shock: "Shema Yisrael!" As in: "And I was like, Shema Yisrael! This is spicy!"
Well, I woke up this morning and, Shema Yisrael! Lou Reed had died. Thank you Lewis Allan for writing three songs I've listened to and loved for years, Wild Side, Sweet Jane and Perfect Day.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Paperback cover!

My favourite cover so far. Thank you Simon&Schuster.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Same-same, but different: At last, a Booker Prize that reflects modern Britain

Here's my piece for the Atlantic on why the Booker Prize's new policy to accept all entries published in the UK - regardless of their authors' nationality - is morally right as well as artistically appropriate. If we can't judge a book by its cover, why should we judge it by its author's passport?

"Opening the nominee field to authors of all nationalities will reinvigorate competition, better reflect modern Britain, and reward innovation within the English language." So there.

Should Translators be Literary Tour Guides?

It's International Translation Day next Monday, and I stumbled across a great blog on the Free Word Centre's website discussing whether translators should provide cultural context - and if so, how much.

Canan Marasligil, a translator working in French and Turkish, argues that the work should be allowed to speak for itself, and readers should be allowed to wander through a story without being constantly told what they're seeing and why this is significant.

"(Extra explanations) assume that readers in one language, say English for instance, all have access to the same cultural references, and would not understand any culturally foreign references," he writes. "It would mean that as translators, we would think about readers as being part of a specific market. I don’t that this is our job. Personally, I believe in the capacity of all to understand a piece of creative work."

Moreover, Marasligil says, over-eager translators can be horribly patronising and have a tendency to reinforce "exotic" stereotypes. After all, no one ever thinks it necessary to explain what a croissant is. (The same, by the way, goes for italics. I am constantly undoing italics added by copy-editors. Italics are like saying, watch out, here's a foreign word... take a deep breath... here it comes... spaghetti.)

Nicky Harman, a translator of Mandarin, believes that cultural and historical context can help us understand subtle layers that would otherwise have escaped us. He gives the example of reading Shakespeare without understanding the role of the court fool at the time: you might still enjoy the play and catch some of the nuances, but you would probably get more out of it with a bit of help.
"Expecting the reader to appreciate a book without understanding the context in which the writer was writing and, even more importantly, what he or she was trying to do, is to do the writer an injustice," Harman argues. "This is especially true when readers are unlikely to know much about a history and a culture far removed from their own experience."

While Harman has a point, Marasligil's argument carries more weight. True, cultural footnotes can teach us useful facts. But ultimately, they distance us from the story and the writer. Translators who keep adding explanations are like tour guides who herd us through a crowded market, urging everyone to keep following the red umbrella. We are the visitors, the strangers, the gawkers, obediently trotting along and taking in neatly packaged bits of information while already looking forward to lunch.

Marasligil's approach - leaving the reader to figure out that a simit is a sort of Turkish sesame bagel - may initially seem more demanding. It throws us right into the bazaar without telling us what's going on. But here's the thing: no one told the people in the bazaar what's going on, either. All of us are constantly trying to figure out what's going on around us and where we're all heading. The one thing that might just help us get there is not a dictionary of baked goods, but human connection and understanding. What better way to achieve that connection than to dive into a story that is not your own, allow the force of the narrative to carry you along, and become a different person in a different world until you close the book?

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Harry Potter and the Good Literary Deed

Today I went to sign some copies of Love and Other Wars at Goldsboro Books, a gorgeous little bookshop on a backstreet in central London that inspired Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books. They're super supportive of unknown writers (like me!). So when an obscure military guy by the name of Robert Galbraith published a crime novel a while ago, they ordered lots of copies, unlike other bookshops that ignored him and banked on well-known crime writers instead.

Galbraith was very reserved, not surprising given his military background, and they had to send the copies to him to be signed.

And then... the news broke that Galbraith was JK Rowling. The publisher re-printed thousands of copies mentioning the JK connection. Which meant Goldboro was suddenly the owner of dozens of extremely rare first editions signed "Galbraith" (later copies were signed JK & Galbraith).

When I prodded them today for more gossip, they eventually revealed that they'd received a personal thank-you note from JK for championing her book when few others were interested. You might think they'd frame it and put it in their window, but that's not their style.

The fact that a Harry Potter tour group was standing outside the shop as we chatted, marvelling at the model for Diagon Alley, somehow made the whole story all the more magical.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Pacifists and the Centenary

Interesting piece in the Guardian on anti-war campaigners challenging the 'glorious conflict' narrative of World War One and planning to highlight the treatment of conscientious objectors:

"Anti-war activists, pacifists and others are challenging the narrative of the official programme marking the centenary of the First world war"

I just glanced at the comments section for the piece. Several readers seem to think that remembering the plight of conscientious objectors, or criticising the glorification of violence, somehow taints the memory of those who died in the war. This argument assumes that conchies and soldiers belong to opposite groups, and should feel hostile towards each other.

In reality, many of the most vocal pacifists in the 1920s and 1930s were former soldiers or ambulance workers who had witnessed the horrors of war first-hand. They were not against soldiers: they were against war.

Dick Sheppard, one of the founders of the Peace Pledge Union in the 1930s, had served as chaplain in a military hospital in France during World War One. A couple of years ago, I interviewed his daughter, who recalled his great sympathy for the soldiers who flocked to his pacifist sermons at St Martin-in-the Fields, Trafalgar Square. They had heard enough firebrand sermons about the glories of warfare. Here was someone who understood them and did not try to glamourise their suffering.

t's a myth that conchies are somehow naive or don't understand war. The truth is that many of them understand war all too well - and know they want nothing to do with it.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Of Love and Other Wars...

... will be out on August 29 ie next Thursday ie the day after the day after the day after tomorrow! I'll be doing some readings and workshops around the themes of faith, love and conflict - check out the news & reviews section.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

A Letter from Afghanistan

A decade ago, we were told that only military force could topple the Taliban and liberate Afghan women. Now it looks like Western leaders have abandoned all three principles. The military solution has failed; the Taliban has turned into a negotiation partner; the plight of Afghan women seems to have been forgotten.

President Karzai has reportedly told Afghan women to stop campaigning for a law that would ban child marriage, forced marriage and rape as it's "against Islam". Meanwhile, the Taliban has opened an office in Doha, Qatar, and tentative U.S.-Taliban peace talks are under way.

This morning I received a campaign letter from Women for Afghan Women, a brilliant advocacy group in Afghanistan, urging the U.S. not to negotiate with the Taliban. They make a strong case, backed by their relentless efforts to provide legal aid, education and community support on the ground.

It's a difficult situation, since peace talks by definition involve talking to someone you loathe; otherwise you wouldn't be at war with them in the first place. On the other hand, what sort of message do the peace talks send out to all those who tried to resist the rule and values of the Taliban?

Here's the letter:

June 25, 2013

Dear Sophie,

As you know, the Taliban has opened an office in Doha, Qatar, and claims to want to negotiate a peaceful solution to the long war in Afghanistan.

Although we yearn for peace as much as you, Women for Afghan Women believes that far from achieving that goal, negotiating with the Taliban is the way to brutal repression.

The Taliban are murderers who will stop at nothing to regain the totalitarian power they held in Afghanistan in the 1990s. At 6:30 am today, they conducted a brazen attack on the president’s palace. We awoke to TV images of little girls and boys and their teachers at a nearby school crawling out from under rubble. The Taliban have burned down hundreds of girls’ schools, murdered teachers who defy them by teaching girls, threaten those of us who run shelters for abused females.

The Taliban have not agreed to respect and obey the Afghan constitution.  They have not agreed that human rights belong to women as well as to men or that women’s human rights must be protected.  They have not agreed that girls have the right to an education.  And they have not agreed to respect and participate in a democratic political process.  And yet, the United States is willing to negotiate with them.

President Karzai boycotted the talks because he was offended by the Taliban signs and flag.  Now that these have been removed, he may go to Doha and the talks may resume.

WAW’s position has not changed.  We are unwaveringly for the Afghan people, which means that we are against negotiations with the Taliban.

Our plea to President Obama and President Karzai –
The Afghan people do not want the Taliban to have any role in Afghanistan’s future.  Please call off these talks and never again give them the opportunity to posture as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. The Taliban will not be happy with a negotiated deal – they are interested in taking over Afghanistan by any means necessary.  Instead, put your efforts and resources into ensuring a fair and transparent electoral process next year, a process in which all Afghans have the time, the information, and the security they need to vote.

And to all our supporters and the supporters of human rights around the world –
Stand with the Afghan people who do not want the Taliban back.

With as much determination as ever,

Manizha Naderi
Executive Director, WAW

Monday, 24 June 2013

Prof, You're Dividing My Nation

The Chronicle of Higher Education has just published my feature on language rights and politics in Iraqi Kurdistan. Love the beautiful illustration.

I researched the story months ago, long before the events in Gezi Park. While it mostly focuses on the situation south of the Turkish-Iraqi border, I would be interested to hear whether/how the protests in Turkey have affected the Kurdish language issue in general.

Happy reading!

Monday, 10 June 2013

Graphic Lesbian Sex Is Not What Makes Blue Is the Warmest Colour Radical

This year's Palme d'Or winner is getting a lot of attention for its explicit sex scenes. But "Le bleu est une couleur chaude" the book it's based on, has a much more thought-provoking message... Read the full piece in the Atlantic's online edition.


I love the way author Julie Maroh captures the intensity and drama of adolescence, that powerful sense of "my life begins today". She's never patronising, never mocks her character's hopes and fears. It reminded me of the days when I felt like a single encounter, a single spontaneous party at an abandoned bus stop (yep, I know, provincial upbringing) could change absolutely everything:

"J'ai le coeur qui bat tres fort quand je pense a tout a l'heure... je sais pas ce qu'il va se passer... Mais j'ai l'intuition... qu'aujourd'hui est un jour important."

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Gosling at the Ladies' Pond

The last baby gosling at Hampstead ladies' pond! Sniff. Its siblings were eaten by dogs. The life guards said 2 more weeks and it should be fine - ie, strong enough to fly away when chased by a pack of labradors. They're also keeping the gates closed to deter goose-crazed dogs.

The ladies' pond is one of those magical London sanctuaries: a swimmable pond fringed by reeds and weeping willows. It's smaller than the men's pond but more hidden and atmospheric. Every time I go, I half expect a badger to cross the water in a rowing boat or a hedgehog to wash its socks on the bank, Beatrix-Potter style. Last year I even saw an electric blue kingfisher.

The only downside: the water is pretty chilly right now.

My thoughts when I went for a swim this morning:

1. (on the ladder, testing the water with my toe) Fuck this is cold.

2. (still on the ladder) Why am I doing this?

3. (jumping in) Aaaaaaah

4. (first ring) Brain-shock

5. (second ring) My skin is on fire. In an ice-fire kind of way.

6. (third ring) There's a goose nesting in the ring. Nice.

7. Wah! A mandarin duck just swam past my nose. And a gosling! That's a gosling! Careful, little gosling, labradors are not your friends.

8. (last buoy) Blue-green, silver-green, sun-dappled green, yellow-green, brown-green. Sunlight on pond water. Duck feet kicking up silver sparks.
I have dived into a Monet painting and am swimming around in it.

9. (swimming through the painting) This is even better than that trip in Thailand when I thought the jungle was a symphony and I was conducting it.

10. (climbing out) Please London keep the Hampstead ladies' pond alive forever and ever.

See you at the pond! Once you're in, the water is lovely.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

To Adopt Call 0800 (But Not If You're White)

"Black children need black families," says Islington Council. What a slap in the face for all the mixed families riding the number 43 bus to Highbury&Islington where I saw this poster. If the point is to encourage black couples, singles and families to adopt, why not find a positive, inclusive message that broadens the circle of all adopters rather than reducing it?

There are several reasons why this campaign makes me absolutely furious. The first is that I've recently heard a string of anti-adoption comments from friends and acquaintances: surely adoptive children must always feel a sense of loss and will ultimately track down their genetic parents; surely it must be very strange indeed to raise a child who doesn't look like yourself; surely you can't love an adopted child in quite the same, natural way as you would love your own.

What utter rubbish.

None of the adopted people in my family and circle of friends want to track down "their parents", for the very simple reason that they already know their parents. They're right there, on the other end of the phone line, talking about the neighbour's kids and the dog's latest tricks. We rarely read misery memoirs written by happy adopted sons and daughters with ordinary lives because, well, it doesn't make for a particularly thrilling memoir (nor a miserable one). There is a disproportionate focus on people with bad adoption experiences, for the obvious reason that those with good ones don't have an interesting tale to tell. As a headline, "Yeah, my parents are ok, I guess" isn't going to get a lot of clicks.

Of course, there are people who were adopted by horrible parents, or by parents who were not horrible but failed to make them feel loved and accepted. The other day, again on the number 43 bus, I overheard a black man in his 80s tell a woman about "the white man who raised me". He went on to imitate his adoptive/foster father's self-righteous, hectoring voice, which still rang in his head decades later. However, it sounded like race was the least of the problems in that particular relationship. And more well-intentioned parents can make their child feel at home in his/her new family in a number of ways, as Lola Jaye has written in this thoughtful piece.

There are other potential problems. I know adopted children who have had to endure stares, swivel-eyed curiosity, completely inappropriate questions from strangers ("have you tried to track down your birth parents?" after 10 mins of meeting someone), only because they did not look like their parents. Having spent the morning reading up on the trans-racial adoption debate (thanks, Islington Council), I found some heartbreaking pieces by people who recalled being bullied, beaten up and made to feel ashamed of the way they looked. The problem here isn't the mixed family. The problem is society. White parents don't need to stop adopting black children: society needs to stop being racist.

This is the second reason Islington Council's campaign makes me so angry. It reinforces the perception that children, and people in general, feel most comfortable and happy among people who look like themselves. It reinforces the perception that closer genetic links equal closer emotional links.
This is a) racist.
And b), the obvious conclusion to this train of logic is that adopted parents - and adopted children - can't ever be as good/happy/complete as genetically linked families. It supports the views of hateful people who say they couldn't love an adopted child the same way they would love one that shares their DNA. ("Sorry love, hope you're feeling comfy in your care home, it's just that my ideal baby is a clone").
So, c), the poster gives white and Asian people a reason not to adopt black children ("even the Council says it doesn't work"),
and d) it discourages adoption in general by emphasising genetic closeness.

Well done, poster people.

I wish Islington Council spent its money on encouraging all parents to adopt. We don't need more reasons why we shouldn't adopt. We don't need to hear that we're the wrong parents for this or that child. We need to hear the other facts: that most adopted children thrive in their families, that adoption is a great source of joy and happiness, and a wonderful way to show that love and emotional belonging matter more than society's lazy prejudices and stereotypes.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013


"Sometimes I look at my children when they are asleep. Their faces seem utterly strange then, hardly recognisable, and I see that they are strange people from a time that is yet to come and that I will not experience... Sometimes it seems that it's the cruelty of their time, of the future, that overcomes the children in their sleep. I don't want to experience that time!"

"Yes, yes!" said the captain.

(Joseph Roth, Radetzkymarsch, 1932) 

A friend once told me about a (French? German? Polish?) writer who translated a page of prose a day as a way of keeping his literary muscles in shape. I'm not going to be that ambitious, but I'll occasionally be translating short passages and bits of dialogue from books that strike me as worth sharing.

I'm nearing the end of Radetzkymarsch; the more chapters I read, the slower the progress, probably because I suspect it's going to end badly and I can't bear it. It's the faces of the dead emerging behind a ghostly roulette table in the middle of the book. Whichever way I look at that particular symbol, it just doesn't bode well.

And yet there is surely a chance Carl Joseph will get out of his alcoholic, 90-proof hole, make up with his father and find happiness in a friendly and worthwhile profession such as, say, book-binding.
Isn't there? There must be.

Also: how was Joseph Roth able to write the above passage in 1932?

PS - here's the final passage of the chapter I just finished. You might understand why I'm terrified of reading on, and at the same time desperate to know what's next:

He did not know, old Mr von Trotta, that fate was spinning bitter sorrows for him as he slept. He was old and tired, and death was already waiting for him, but life did not let him go. Like a cruel host it kept him at the table, because he had not yet tasted all the bitterness that had been prepared for him."


Sunday, 14 April 2013

Spring Awakening

I saw the sun today. But for those who are still trapped by fog, rain or permafrost, here's an uplifting thought: great literary treasures lurk beneath the freezing point. Dickens, Tolstoy, Proust, H.C. Andersen, Mary Shelley, Byron and many others wrote their most famous novels/poems/stories under trying meteorological conditions. So: is bad weather great for fiction? (Piece for the Huffington Post).

Speaking of seasons: Jonathan Franzen translated Spring Awakening (Fruehlingserwachen, a play by Frank Wedekind about sexual awakening) into English a few years ago. I knew Franzen spoke German but didn't know he spoke it well enough to translate from it. Does anyone know if he's translated other plays or stories?

A friend once told me about a writer who translated a page of prose a day as a form of literary gymnastics. It makes sense: translation forces you to obsess over the precise meaning of each word as well as entire phrases and passages, and find the right balance between accuracy and beauty. It's such a hard exercise and I don't do it nearly often enough, certainly not in a literary context. Poetry is, of course, even more difficult to translate. Earlier this year I tackled Das Blaue Klavier ("The Blue Piano") by Else Lasker-Schueler. I could feel my brain stretching and reaching towards the right words just as I stretch my fingers towards my toes in yoga class. The results were about as elegant as a downward dog.

Consider the first line:

Ich hab zu Hause ein blaues Klavier
Und kenne doch keine Note

The literal translation would be "I have a blue piano at home /  and don't know a single note". Not very satisfying. The music is lost, and in a poem about a piano, music is everything. I tried out lots of different versions and looked up some existing translations, but in the end, I gave up. I basically decided that it was better not to translate it at all than to come up with something unsatisfying. What do you think? Should we even bother to translate poetry or simply tell readers to go and learn more languages?

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Brecht & the Dividends Opera

"A publishing house is different from a screw factory, but they follow the same economic laws. If I make losses, I can't afford to pay advances to authors."

- says Hans Barlach, a media investor who is embroiled in a power struggle at Suhrkamp, a legendary German publishing house with a list that stretches from Brecht and Hesse to Habermas.

There's something very Brechtian about the conflict. A flamboyant widow who basically inherited the company from her late husband; a bold minority shareholder who charges into this bastion of high-brow prose and refined literary salons, demanding a higher dividend.

I'm waiting for someone to post a Brechtian take on this on youtube, complete with "The Screw Factory Song" and Suhrkamp's panicking authors as the Greek chorus. How about "The Dividends Opera"?

You can read the full story here:

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Three Kurdish activists killed - update

An update on the horrific killings in Paris:
Apparently AFP mistakenly reported that the crime took place at the Kurdish institute. This was wrong: they took place at another Kurdish organisation in Paris. I'm relieved for the people at the institute, but the crime remains hideous and inexcusable.
This is the institute's statement on the case:

"Three Kurdish activists assassinated in Paris.

Three Kurdish activists were assassinated on Wednesday 9th January in Paris, on the premises of the Kurdish Information Centre, in circumstances that have yet to be clarified.
Amongst them are Sakine Cansiz, a well known PKK public figure who has spent many years in Turkish prisons.
This triple murder, which has taken place in the context of the beginning of a dialogue between the Turkish Government and the PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, to find a peaceful settlement of the Kurdish question, has plunged the Kurdish community into deep mourning.
Through an incredible and distressing lack of professionalism, the Agence France Press, in its first despatches, indicated that these assassinations took place on the premises of the Kurdish Institute.
This information was relayed by the radios and the non-stop news channels in France, but also in Turkey and other countries, arousing consternation amongst the Institute’s friends, hundreds of whom are calling us and sending us messages.
We have approached the AFP management that has apologized and corrected its mistake as of 8 am. We thank all our friends for their solidarity and call on the French authorities to make every effort to cast a light on this horrible massacre perpetrated in Paris and which has created a dangerous precedent as well as greatly worried the Kurdish community in France."

Paris executions

Reuters reports that three Kurdish women have been found shot dead at the Kurdish Institute in Paris.

"The bodies of three Kurdish women who appeared to have died from gunshots to the head were found early on Thursday at the Kurdish Institute in Paris, a police source said... one of the women killed was Sakine Cansiz, a founding member of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group."

I did most of my research the Registrar at the institute. The people there were wonderfully helpful and dedicated to preserving Kurdish culture.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the conflict in Turkey, and whatever the politics of the women, I think we can all agree that nothing justifies this brutal execution of three people. 
The library at the Kurdish institute was a place where anyone could come and read Kurdish poetry and novels in translation - works you would find nowhere else. It gave a bit of breathing space to a part of Kurdish culture that has been stifled by the violence: literature, poetry, song. Sweden and France are the only real hubs of Kurdish culture in exile, because their governments have supported translators and intellectuals in their efforts to preserve Kurdish culture and let it live.

I'm so horrified by this crime. My thoughts are with the victims' families, and with the brave and dedicated people at the institute.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Child booksellers of Mumbai

Good morning! Just read an interesting feature by Sonia Faleiro for the New York Times about the child booksellers of Mumbai:

Holding aloft his wares, he dashes toward a black BMW and in his cracking preteen voice addresses the woman inside: “ ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’?”
It made me think of the pirate vendors in Peru who inspired my short story for World Literature Today, Anyone Have Any Idea What Jesus Wrote Here?
The story is about an expat author in the Andean town of Huayhuash who spots a pirated copy of her book at an illegal vendor's stall. Her book is about the only scene in the Bible where Jesus writes something - but nowhere in the Bible does it say what he wrote. Worried that she'll report him to the police, the vendor outsmarts her by making one vital change to the book...
The story was published in WLT's print edition in November; you can order it here.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Happy new year!

Good news: the manuscript is with the copy editor (phew) and I've got a new office. Or rather, a new desk. Well, half a new desk. A good friend decided that I was spending too much time befriending the snails in my window box (part of working-from-home syndrome, also known as lonely-writer-develops-eccentric-habits syndrome). So she put me in touch with another friend of hers who was looking to sub-let her half of a shared desk in a shared office space. Yes, it's all very communal. So far, office life is wonderful. My new office mates have poured me cups of tea and coffee and fed me carrot cake. It certainly beats rootling around the fridge for that one leftover stale carrot.

The Book of Liz (Daily Telegraph) Mohn, the woman behind media giant Bertelsmann, talks about the future of Penguin Random House. Read more...

From Kafka With Fear (Daily Telegraph)

6 Dec 2012 - A letter from Franz Kafka in which the sick writer describes his "naked fear" of mice invading his bedroom and complains about his cat soiling his slippers could be saved from disappearing into a private collection in a last-minute rescue attempt by German fans.