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Beyond Harry Potter

Despite the Potter blitz, for those with a more evolved literary bent of mind, the real action of 2003 lay elsewhere. Saibal Chatterjee looks at the literary choices.

books Updated: Jan 14, 2004 12:40 IST
Saibal Chatterjee
Saibal Chatterjee

All too predictably Harry Potter cast a spell on the entire reading world in 2003. When JK Rowling's latest book (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) hit Indian shores, the response was phenomenal. Pottermania broke all records, necessitating a Hindi edition to satiate the domestic market. But for those with a more evolved literary bent of mind, the real action of the year lay elsewhere in the publishing sphere: fine specimens of fiction that drew insightful portraits of societies, communities, ways of life and individuals.

In a year that Gabriel Garcia Marquez's riveting memoir, Living to Tell the Tale, was published in English, several gifted novelists delivered books that had the power to go beyond mere words and activate the reader's imagination in fascinating ways.

Pico Iyer bolstered his reputation as a writer in 2003 with a novel that revealed a new facet of his considerable talent. Iyer is known primarily for his freewheeling explorations of ancient and contemporary cultures, both known and unknown. Abandon is only his second novel but nowhere does he betray any signs that fiction could be unfamiliar territory for him. This despite the fact that with this book he enters a universe he barely understands: it narrates the tale of an Englishman who studies Sufism in a California University and nurtures a deep passion for the famed Persian poet Rumi. Abandon makes for yet another wonderful voyage of discovery - and a truly good read.

Gabriel Garcia Marques' memoir was possibly the most outstanding book of the previous year.

Through the personality and outlook of John Macmillan, the protagonist of


, Iyer projects the sense of displacement that he himself probably feels. He is a Britisher born to Indian parents who now divides his time between California and Japan. He brings alive the predicament of an exiled soul suspended between various cultures with the help of his wonderfully descriptive prose. Strangely for a writer who has built his career around the constant and insightful recording of reality, Abandon sees Iyer is decidedly better form in the narration of events and situations far removed from the ken of his own immediate comprehension.

Another writer who gave her admirers much joy in 2003 was Jhumpa Lahiri. She addresses existences that are much more ordinary in The Namesake, her first novel. Filled to the brim with sharp observations of everyday immigrant existence, Lahiri's story revolves around Nikhil "Gogol" Ganguli, who is born to Bengali parents, grows up in New England and now struggles to attain stability as a member of the Boston expatriate community. A succession of botched relationships leads to much emotional turmoil. Lahiri sees the rest of the characters, including his parents and sister, through the prism of his Gogol's own experiences.

First Published: Jan 14, 2004 12:40 IST