A few weeks ago, The Daily Beast launched its Book Club by inviting readers to submit questions for Aravind Adiga, author of the Man Booker Prize-winning The White Tiger in 2008 and, most recently, of Between the Assassinations, a collection of stories set in the fictional city of Kittur, India. Today, we’ve posted Mr. Adiga’s responses to those questions. Keep an eye on this space for our next Book Club selection, coming soon.
“Not only is it possible, it is absolutely essential that a nation hold on to its culture in a globalized economy.”
Did you find any change within yourself while going through your myriad experiences and travels and then putting them into words? Was it difficult to reconcile the richness of the ancient culture of India with its blatant disregard of the basic human condition? — Smriti
Dear Smriti: The culture of India is indeed rich beyond words, and one part of this richness has always been the space it has allowed for self-criticism. Religious reformers like the Buddha were also social reformers. Almost all my thinking on India is shaped by what I've heard from people while I travel through the country; political and social criticism is very much a part of culture in India—and rage and frustration are as Indian as poetry and music. To love India's culture does not mean you must accept the widespread problems that still ail the country: quite the contrary. To love India and her culture is to want her to achieve the best she can.
There are so many forms of blindness evident in this excerpt—blindness to another's pain and one's own violence being only the most obvious. Would you say that selective blindness is one of the glues of Indian society? In other words, if everything were suddenly seen for exactly what it is, would society begin to fall apart? Ultimately, is some form of blindness necessary to hold all societies together? — Jerry Brown
Dear Jerry: Not only is selective blindness necessary to hold societies together, it is also necessary to hold individual lives together! Societies that are blind to some of their failings can be more aggressive and self-confident than more liberal, introspective societies: and indeed, throughout history, more primitive, driven societies have toppled more complex ones. But on balance, I think, societies that are introspective, and examine their failings, come out better. India's great strength is that it is a liberal democracy, where artists and journalists are free to express their views: This does not always make them popular, but such freedom of expression strengthens the country in the long run. We must believe, though the evidence is ambiguous, that self-examination helps us as individuals and societies.
Do you believe it is possible for a country to hold onto its culture in a “one world economy”? And is it possible to improve the standard of living of a nation without compromising its rich cultural heritage? We look forward to reading/discussing your book in our upcoming meeting. — Ben Hughes Groundhog Community Book Club Punxsutawney, PA
Dear Ben: Not only is it possible, it is absolutely essential that a nation hold on to its culture in a globalized economy. I say this because there is in every part of the world both an acceptance of the world economy, and a reaction against it: People love McDonald's, but also resent it. The fear of loss of cultural identity can lead to a severe backlash—one reason for the rise of fundamentalist religion in some parts of the world. These extremist forms of religion, which were never truly part of a country's culture or heritage, can claim for themselves a fake degree of authenticity and appeal to those disenchanted with globalization. This is why it is important that the real culture of every nation—which is usually too complex, nuanced, and rich to tolerate much room for fanaticism or extremism--should be preserved and enriched: culture is the surest medicine against terrorism.
What is your background? How did you become an author? — Rocio Yousif
Dear Rocio: I grew up in a conservative small town in India, where my parents hoped I would become a doctor, like my father. I've always wanted to write, but it took me a long time to find out what kind of writer I would be, and what my subjects would be. I've been, variously, a graduate student in English, a journalist, and now a writer! I often thought of joining a creative writing program, but I always worried about where I'd find the money for such a program and what would happen if I failed to get published at the end of the program. As late as 2006, when I was a journalist in India, I had few real hopes of being a published writer. I think I became an author through some determination, and a lot of luck: it always takes both.
I read somewhere that halfway into writing the novel you were perilously close to abandoning the entire project. In that regard, for you, what was most difficult about writing this novel? What also, if anything, was the epiphany which convinced you that you could complete it to your satisfaction? — Kanishka Bhattacharya Washington D.C.
Dear Kanishka: Thank you for writing. I've always thought that any novel or book of stories, if it has to have merit, has to be an experiment: and take a big risk. This means it carries the possibility of failing entirely. As I write, I often have no idea where I'm going, or how I will finish a book, or whether I will finish it at all. This has happened with both books I've written, and will no doubt happen again. A combination of luck and support from others keeps me going: also the fact that I have nothing much else to do with my time but write! Had I not quit my full-time job with Time magazine in 2006 to concentrate on writing, I wouldn't have pushed through with either book.
I received a Kindle for my birthday and I love it. Books I can download, I wouldn’t have otherwise read. What are your thoughts on the dissemination of literature through technologies of today? — Bill Nickels
The current state of the Internet encourages short-form art, such as movie shorts on YouTube, haiku via Twitter, or blogs for non-fiction. Do you see the same dynamic changing fiction publishing, i.e. serialized fiction on smart phones or flash fiction spread through email? — Frank Blissett Sault, Michigan
Dear Bill and Frank, I don't yet use Kindle: I read books the old-fashioned way. But I have no doubt that technology will alter the way fiction is created. After all, the novel is itself, to some extent, a creation of a new technology: the printing press. But how things will change, I can't say. One reassuring thing seems to be that readers will always want good writing that illuminates issues that are important in their lives. Older forms of literature have survived changes in technology and continue to thrive: poetry, for instance.
You have created such rich and interesting characters. Would you like to see your novels (one or both) turned into a movie? Would you like to write the screenplay? — Tricia Chambers
Dear Tricia, A producer has indeed optioned the rights to The White Tiger, but I have no desire to work on the screenplay. I think a writer should move on, and not linger on past work. The main joy of having a book of yours adapted into a movie is the thought that everyone who hated it the first time round will have to endure it one more time.