Flipping over this year’s pages: Literary bookmarks of 2019

For all that’s worth, predictions and prophecies about books falling prey to alternative sources of entertainment have not taken shape.
Jeet Thayil, author of Narcopolis.
Jeet Thayil, author of Narcopolis.
Updated on Dec 27, 2019 05:59 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByNavneet Vyasan

For all that’s worth, predictions and prophecies about books falling prey to alternative sources of entertainment have not taken shape. And with what we’ve seen in the past year, it’s only fair to say that authors, and their words, garner the same amount of excitement among people that they did before. In what was another exciting year for literary buffs, we bookmark the major happenings of 2019.

Biographies and autobiographies galore

Prominent personalities from across the globe opened up about their lives and gave the world an insight into their tumultuous, yet successful, life. In Elton John’s autobiography, Me, the pages give a peek into the scandalous 1970s. Lady Diana, Freddie Mercury, Madonna, the Beatles and many more make appearances in unbelievable anecdotes. Edward Snowden, too, released his long-awaited autobiography, Permanent Record. Snowden has been given asylum by Russia since 2013 after he was convicted by American courts for felony.

It was Snowden who revealed to the world that American government was spying on its citizens. In former British Prime Minister David Cameron’s autobiography, titled For The Record, he explained his son’s unfortunate death due to cerebral palsy, his call for the 2016 referendum, which toppled towards a wider call for Brexit. A decision that forced him to resign.

William Dalrymple.
William Dalrymple.

India makes its presence felt

In 2019, numerous Indian authors found themselves at the helm of international adoration. Booker Prize shortlisted author Jeet Thayil was included in the committee responsible for the announcement of the 2019 prize. Author Salman Rushdie, for the fourth time, made it to the shortlist of the Booker Prize 2019, for his book Quichotte.

Year of firsts

In what was a completely baffling revelation, the Booker Prize 2019, announced joint winners this year. Margaret Atwood won her second prize for The Testaments and Bernardine Evaristo won it for the first time for her book Girl, Woman, Other. The opinions were contrasting. While some applauded the decision, many were left upset. Lucy Ellmann, who, was shortlisted as well for her work Ducks, Newburyport, in an interview to HT, called the decision “a depressing compromise”. Whereas, Jokha al-Harthi, an Omani writer, won the Man Booker International Prize for her book Celestial Bodies, making her the first Arab writer to win the prestigious prize.

A restructured Nobel committee returns to the picture after #metoo

In November 2017, it was revealed in the Swedish press that the husband of one of the academy members had been accused of serial sexual abuse by 18 women, in assaults alleged to have taken place over a period of more than 20 years. In addition to assault accusations against him, the pair were accused of misusing academy funding. The academy, which was left paralysed after the expose, decided against handing the prize in 2018. Moreover, Frostenson was accused of leaking the names of literature prize winners to Arnault, with the result that large bets were placed with bookies in Paris.

In 2019, a completely revamped committee was set up, to get the academy back on its feet. But controversy refused to evade the prestigious prize as the Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to Peter Handke, an Austrian novelist. Handke, during the Yugoslav war of the 1990s, developed a strongly pro-Serbian stance, resulting in his 1996 book A Journey to the Rivers: Justice for Serbia, in which he painted Serbia as the true victim of the conflict. The announcement sparked worldwide protests against the academy.

Return of prominent novelists

2019 was an awaited year, for literary critics and readers alike. Margaret Atwood released, The Testaments, her much-anticipated follow-up to The Handmaid’s Tale. William Dalrymple, in what he termed as his most ambitious work, released Anarchy — The Relentless Rise of the East India Company, a result of five years of research. Amitav Ghosh, too, returned to fiction after four long years with The Gun Island.

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