Sunday, February 3, 2008

Manil Suri

From a conversation between Manil Suri and Michael Cunningham, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Hours:

MC: I’m Michael Cunningham, and I have the privilege of talking to Manil Suri about his remarkable first novel, The Death of Vishnu. Who are some of your literary influences? Do you identify yourself particularly as an Indian writer?

MS: Both of these questions are kind of loaded questions, because first of all I’m never quite clear in my mind what is meant by a literary influence. How do you interpret that?

MC: I would say, any piece of writing that stays with you, and in some way influences the kind of writer you are, whether it be Henry James or Jacqueline Susann, both of whom I claim as influences.

MS: OK, well that’s good, because I certainly grew up on a lot of Jacqueline Susann-type novels. But more serious writers I would have to say, the one that comes to mind is V. S. Naipaul. I’ve just read one book of his, A House for Mr. Biswas, and the thing that stayed with me out of that novel was the way his characters speak. And they speak in English, but you can tell they are speaking an Indian language. It’s their intonation, or, I don’t know how he does it, and that’s certainly something I would love to be able to do. So that’s something that definitely did stay with me. I’ve read several Indian authors, naturally, growing up in India, Rabindranath Tagore comes to mind, R. K. Narayan. Both of those, I don’t know if they were influences, but certainly I liked them a lot. Another person I would say, completely different, is Paul Bowles, and the journey that Mr. Jalal makes might have been influenced by something I read of his. You also asked about whether I consider myself an Indian writer, and again that requires some sort of definition. Being a mathematician, I’m always looking for definitions. But, I think yes, I think I am, certainly I’m writing about India in this book, writing as an Indian I think. There are some books written by Indians which go overboard, bend over backwards trying to explain things to foreign readers. I certainly have tried to make things clear, but on the other hand I think I’ve resisted the temptation to, what should I say, be too careful about what I put in and what I don’t put in, so that people aren’t unduly disturbed by anything that they might not understand. So yes, but I don’t want to say anything more, because there’s this raging controversy as to what constitutes an Indian writer and what doesn’t. But I think I am, yes.
Read the full interview.

Manil Suri's new novel is The Age of Shiva.

--Marshal Zeringue