Bilal Tanweer is a writer and translator. His fiction, poetry and translations have appeared in various international magazines including Granta, Vallum, Caravan, and Words Without Borders. He was one of Granta’s New Voices for 2011 and one of the eleven recipients of the 2010 PEN Translation Fund Grant. He teaches literature and fiction writing at LUMS, Lahore. He’s a CM fanboy.
- Pakistan’s General Problem: Mohammed Hanif / OPEN Magazine
The sanest reading on Pakistan and the Generals who run the country. This would be hilarious if it wasn’t entirely true—but it’s still pretty hilarious. (By the way, I am still waiting for a designer to come up with t-shirts that read: murshid, marwa na dena. I’ll buy two, I promise.)
- At Sea: Manan Ahmed / Chapati Mystery
The best post on the OBL saga. If you want perspective, if you want understanding, this is the place to go.
- Forfeiting the Future: Manan Ahmed / Caravan
And not surprisingly, the best piece on the ghastly murder of Salman Taseer was also by Manan Ahmed. Others may give you information. This gives you understanding.
This was the year of DFW’s The Pale King. I read so many reviews but none was particularly memorable. However, two pieces are worth remembering. First, DFW’s nasty letter to his editor at Harper’s where he threatens his editors in footnotes. Second one is on the tangled youths of DFW, Franzen, and Eugenides and how that led them to create great books. One heck of a read.
Places, Loved Ones
- Seven Places in My Heart: Mohammed Hanif / Newsline
Of the most charming essays I’ve read in 2011, this beautiful ode to Karachi by Mohammed Hanif is my winner. Over the course of the year, I have returned to it many times for its little stories, quirky characters, and hilarious situations. I tell you, there is a funny, affecting novel buried in this piece. I hope Hanif writes it one day. I hope he’s listening.
- A.A Gill: Dubai on Empty / Vanity Fair
The curmudgeon-travel writer I love visits a city I loathe. I reread Gill all the time for his mind bending sentences. Nobody writes like him. He can tell you about his writing desk and make it read like a thriller. Favorite reading.
- What if We Lose This Match?: Khurram Husain/ The Express Tribune
We weren’t paying much attention to the newspapers on the day of Pakistan-India World Cup semi-final. But we did to this piece—because it captures subcontinent’s collective madness and raging euphoria for the game of cricket. Amazingly, incredibly, impossibly. It simply nails it.
- Liking Is for Cowards. Go for What Hurts.: Johnathan Franzen / NY Times
Nobody talks about love these days; not even poets. Thank God for Franzen.
Some of the Best Writing Is Writers Writing About Books
- The Fierce Imagination of Haruki Murakami: Sam Anderson / NY Times
Since he’s moved to NY Times Book Review, Sam Anderson has been focusing on his Sentence of the Week column that, generally speaking, I find pretty uninspired and uninspiring. But the Sam we know and love makes a return here and shows some serious love for Murakami, Tokyo, weird things. In between he also talks about Murakami’s new novel, 1Q84.
- Daisy Rockwell: Night-Smudged Light / Caravan
In this review of the first-ever translation of Yashpal’s monumental Hindi novel, Jhoota Such (This Is Not That Dawn), our friend, Ms Rockwell, takes a long view of Partition narratives in fiction, history and photography and point to the limitations of the existing conversation on Partition—and looks to expand it.
- La doublure: The singular fabrications of Raymond Roussel—By Ben Marcus / Harper’s Magazine
Ben Marcus is probably the smartest writer I have met. Here he reviews Raymond Roussel’s Impressions of Africa. A random favorite sentence from the review: “The procession of strange set pieces comes so fast in Roussel, the effect—an intoxicating disquiet out of a world that is ravishingly gorgeous, if wholly unrecognizable—is almost punishing.” (Subscription required, sadly.) His New Yorker podcast on Ishiguro is also a must listen by the way.
You know who made an appearance this year and rocked our world right away? His name starts with a T and he writes such transparent, light sentences that I seethe with envy. I share two pieces by him.
- Miracle Speech: The Poetry Of Tomas Tranströmer: Teju Cole / The New Yorker Blogs
- Essays From One of Our Best Wishful Thinkers: Teju Cole/ NY Times
- Falling Man: Vinod K. Jose: / Caravan
This profile of Manmohan Singh, is a must read even if you are not interested in Indian politics. It details the long and fascinating story of a man who is “an economist among politicians and a politician among economists.”
- Paul Simms: GOD’S BLOG / The New Yorker
This, I think, was the funniest thing I read on the internet in 2011. And it gets better upon rereading.
And Finally, Some Lit Crit
It’s a bad, bad world out there. Writers are constantly asked: Writing is fine, but what do you really do—and, more importantly, why. Two favorite literary critics articulate the role of literary criticism in our age of opinion and numbers. (Technically, these are 2010 – but hey, 31 December, 2010 is so 2011.)