A word on the news of reading

Haruki Murakami’s new novel declared ‘indecent’ by Hong Kong censors

Ruling says Killing Commendatore must be wrapped with warnings of unsuitability and restricted to an adult readership

The latest novel from Haruki Murakami, Japans most celebrated literary export, has fallen foul of censors in Hong Kong, where it was ruled to be indecent by a tribunal and removed from display at a book fair.

Hong Kongs Obscene Articles Tribunal announced last week that the Chinese-language edition of Murakamis Kishidancho Goroshi, or Killing Commendatore, had been temporarily classified as Class II indecent materials, according to the South China Morning Post. This means that it can only be sold in bookshops with its cover wrapped with a notice warning about its contents, with access restricted to those over the age of 18. The ruling has also seen the novel pulled from booths at the Hong Kong book fair, where a spokesperson said the novel had been removed proactively after last weeks ruling.

Due to be published in the UK this autumn, Killing Commendatore is an epic tour de force of love and loneliness, war and art as well as a loving homage to The

A Vision Shared: the photographers who captured the Great Depression

The 40th anniversary reissue of Hank ONeals defining book brings together the photographers who travelled across America to shine a light on a difficult time

It was the greatest group of photographers ever assembled in America, says Hank ONeal about the men and women hired by a US government agency the prosaically named Farm Security Administration (FSA) to create a portrait of a country coping with the effects of the Great Depression.

These days, the mainstream history of photography agrees with ONeal, but it wasnt always the case. Before ONeals 1976 book A Vision Shared: A Classic Portrait of America and Its People 19351943, these photographers had largely been overlooked. I got to work with nine of the 11 photographers, and the widow and widower of the two that were dead, he says. And you have to realise that in 1974 when I was talking with them, nobody was paying any attention to them. Nobody cared.

If nobody cared before ONeals book, plenty of people did after it. The thing that was most astounding was that the book gathered around 120 reviews. It had three reviews in the New York Times alone, he says. It was a topic that was very hard to criticise. You could criticise me and say I wrote bad copy or something, but you couldnt criticise the pictures the Dorothea Langes, the Walker Evanses, the Ben Shahns, the Jack Delanos

Some of the books photographs define our image of the Great Depression, such as Arthur Rothsteins Farmer and sons walking in the face of a dust storm, Cimarron County, Oklahoma, April 1936. But the pictures, which are presented chronologically, go far beyond the now-cliched view of the period: they show not just the south but all of America from Pennsylvania to Nevada, Florida to Illinois to Vermont; and they were taken not only in cotton fields and shacks, but everywhere in city streets, jails, churches, even racetracks. What made the book special, and still does, is that these were the photographers choices. These werent my choices, continues ONeal, who interspersed lively and illuminating texts about each of the photographers among their chosen pictures. For the books 40th anniversary reissue, he has added a further chapter

It’s the book that gave me freedom: Michael Ondaatje on The English Patient

The novel has been translated into 38 languages and the film scooped nine Oscars. Now, as The English Patient wins the Golden Booker prize voted readers favourite in 50 years the author reveals why he could never have been a writer if hed stayed in Britain

On Sunday night, Michael Ondaatje stepped on to the wide stage of the Royal Festival Hall in London. He found a lectern and, white head bowed, reached into his pocket for a small piece of paper. It began with a small night conversation between a burned patient and a nurse, he said. I did not know at first where it was taking place, or who the two characters were. I thought it might be a brief novella all dialogue, European-style, big type.

The audience laughed. Because what actually turned up, of course, was The English Patient: 300-plus pages about four people inhabiting the mined rooms of a remote Italian villa at the end of the second world war; four very different people who meet in damaged solitude, who talk (there are a lot of night conversations), who love, whose histories, revealed in vivid flashes, become a taut, outraged meditation on the idea of war, of nationalism and of prejudice; a meditation that slips between spies and explorers, Suffolk and the Egyptian desert; the Punjab and Womens College Hospital, Toronto, as easily as the sapper, Kip, slips into bomb craters to defuse bombs.

The English Patient shared the Booker prize with Barry Unsworths Sacred Hunger in 1992, has been translated into 38 languages, and in 1996 became an Anthony Minghella-directed film winning nine Academy awards, and grossing $231m worldwide to date. By Sunday night it had been shortlisted for the Golden Man Booker 50: the best Booker winners of the last 50 years, arrived at by decade. Ondaatjes competition was VS Naipaul, for In a Free State (1970s), Penelope Livelys Moon Tiger (80s), Hilary Mantels Wolf Hall (2000s), and George Saunders Lincoln in the Bardo (10s). And, after a public vote, The English Patient won.

Ralph
Ralph Fiennes in the 1996 film adapation of The English Patient. Photograph: Allstar/Miramax

Upstairs, in a room with long views of a Thames blurry with heat, Ondaatje accepts congratulations and a glass of white wine, please. My first in months. He has one of the most recognisable faces in literature: pale eyes sharp in a wide, tanned face, a halo of white hair and beard. He is gracious, quick and thoughtful, but also well-defended, steely and distracted; aware of friends waiting to celebrate with him downstairs, he talks faster and faster, and eventually simply stops.

What an extraordinary afterlife the book has had. Well, it already had a second afterlife with the film, right? And that was a bolt of lightning that I wasnt expecting. And then this suddenly redoing the whole thing again. Another horse race, you know? He laughs. Though both were a fillip, really, on what the first prize gave him, which was the most precious thing: Freedom. I had been teaching for many, many years up to that point. Teaching full-time, in fact, and trying to write a complicated novel, and that had become too much to manage. I thought I was going to lose it and I had quit my job. I just needed to finish the book. It was a bet. Which could not have come off more handsomely.

Penelope Lively, in her speech earlier in the evening, had mused about how different a person she was, at 85, from the one who in her mid-50s had written Moon Tiger. What did Ondaatje think of the self who wrote The English Patient (which he has not reread since it was published)? Well, I still like him. More interesting, he thinks, is the way in which each book hes written is like a time capsule.

When he was writing The English Patient, between about 1985 and 1992, there was an argument going on in Canada about nationalism and integration. They didnt want Sikhs to wear turbans if they were policemen and stuff like that. That was in the air. The striking thing is how contemporary his concerns how to release oneself from the imposition of nationalism; how to rediscover ones essential individuality or true, often artistic allegiances now feel. Contemporary, and somehow, in a harsher time, impossibly idealistic.

Michael
Michael Ondaatje in 1992, after being jointly awarded the Man Booker prize. Photograph: Richard Baker/In Pictures via Getty Images

Ondaatje is fond of a quotation from John Berger: Never again will a story be told as if it were the only one. It is a moral imperative, isnt it? Especially in current western politics, which seems so determined to cancel the multiplicity of viewpoints from all over the world, or at least to pretend that they dont exist. Oh, absolutely. The Berger quote is very interesting because its a political statement, but its also an artistic statement.

So wasnt the ending of The English Patient, in which the Sikh Kip (whose relationship with the Canadian nurse, Hana, Ondaatje describes as being like continents meeting) drops everything and returns home when he hears of the bombs falling on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a failure of nerve? A reimposition of the nationalisms dissolved through the rest of the novel, where, as Kamila Shamsie put it: Ondaatjes imagination acknowledges no borders?

They cant overcome, says Ondaatje, who remembers that he found the last pages of The English Patient sad to write. It is too difficult for most people; and for Kip, especially, who in the nuclear glare sees suddenly that they would never have dropped such a bomb on a white nation.

In Warlight, published only last month, Ondaatje refers to a subplot of greyhound smuggling up the Thames as a vast mongrelisation of pedigree dogs; it could equally apply to the kitchens of the Criterion, in Piccadilly, where his teenage character Nathaniel finds himself working; to London restaurant kitchens today; to Ondaatjes ideal of the world and to Ondaatje, too. Born in what was then Ceylon, he is of Dutch-Tamil-Sinhalese descent. His parents, tea planters, separated when he was about seven, when his mother moved to England; he would, decades later, in Running in the Family describe in both funny and heartbreaking prose his fathers eventual lonely death from alcoholism.

He was cared for by his chaotic, dramatic, but loving extended family, then aged 11 sent, alone, on the three-week boat voyage to England. It was only when his grown children were appalled by it that he realised it might be unusual, and a good story (it became the scaffolding for 2011s The Cats Table, about a boy called Michael, to whom the same thing happens). He went to Dulwich College in London, where Ondaatje was nicknamed Kip a reference to kipper grease.

Michael
Michael Ondaatje at Londons Royal Festival Hall. Photograph: Teri Pengilley for the Guardian

He has just given a talk at Dulwich, in fact, about Warlight and I saw three or four people I hadnt seen since I was a teenager. Suddenly Im getting emails to Kip all the time. Thats how they remember me. In The English Patient, Kip is perfectly happy with his nickname, until the nuclear bombs fall, when all at once he realises: His name is Kirpal Singh, and he does not know what he is doing here.

Did acquiring a British moniker ever make Ondaatje feel similarly alienated? Yeah well, it is strange. But he doesnt remember the name affecting him (it didnt feel insulting) and although he has previously said how much he disliked England, he is more mellow about it now. I went through school with a lot of irony. I just realised that this is a different place, with a different set of rules, and values, and tastes. Not that its bad, but I had to adapt to it and it happened fast.

In Running in the Family he describes his impetus for memoir as a feeling that he had slipped past a childhood I had ignored and not understood. Is that what hes been doing in his fiction, too trying to understand his childhood? Yeah and I think thats probably true in pretty much most of the books, I think. Perhaps. I think its possible, in retrospect. I think maybe Ive done it now. Ill leave childhood alone.

Watch a trailer for the film adaptation

He eventually found his own freedom by leaving again for Canada, where his brother Christopher already lived, and university. (Christopher, also, is a writer and a hugely successful businessman, a philanthropist and a bobsledding Olympian.) I wonder if it was easier to write from there. His reply is instant. I dont think I would ever have been able to write if I lived in England. Because there was a mythology. In the 50s, to say you were a poet John Keats was a poet, or Shakespeare was a poet it had a lot of gall. Ted Hughes and all those guys hadnt even emerged yet. That happened 10 years after I left.

In Canada he met young writers, was published by small presses unfazed by novels that read like poems, and vice versa. He taught, he became an editor himself at the literary magazine Brick, from which he only stepped down a year ago, after 30 years. And now he has returned, to be crowned by the British reading public the best of the Booker 50. In his thank you he listed novels that missed out on the Booker but that he thought should get a mention by JL Carr, William Trevor, Barbara Pym, Alice Munro and Samuel Selvon. He thanked small presses everywhere, and Minghella, who is no longer with us but I suspect has something to do with the result of this vote. Theres a knowingness in the laugh he gets from the audience this time, too.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jul/09/michael-ondaatje-interview-the-english-patient-golden-booker

Peter Carey calls rule change exercise in corporate branding and Julian Barnes says it is daft

Peter Carey and Julian Barnes have shared their doubts about the future of the Man Booker prize over its decision to allow American writers to enter, with Carey calling it an exercise in global corporate branding and Barnes labelling it daft.

Speaking at an event to mark 50 years of the prize at the Southbank Centre in London, the Australian author Carey who won the prestigious literary prize for Oscar and Lucinda in 1988 and True History of the Kelly Gang in 2001 said he felt the rule change had reduced the chances for Commonwealth authors.

I think the Booker prize has always had a very distinctive quality, which comes from I might not describe it as excluding Americans but has to do with what is still the Commonwealth, and the leftovers of empire, which still have a lot of cultural connections, he said.

I am sure that American prizes dont give a !@#$ about Australians or New Zealanders or Canadians, or any of those voices. An English prize does because there is still a family connection, a cultural connection that really does mean something.

And if you want to think about big American prizes, it is laughable to think the Pulitzer prize would want to bring English and Australian writers in never in a million years would it happen. And inviting American writers, good American writers, changes its nature. It becomes an exercise in global corporate branding.

Referring to the investment firm that had sponsored the prize since 2002, he said: If you are in the Man Group and you are investing in this, youd want this to mean something in New York … I think it makes a lot of sense as far as global corporate branding goes. But I dont think it makes any sense as far as literature goes.

The decision to widen the eligibility from Commonwealth authors to any book written in English has been hotly debated since it was announced in 2013, with dissenting authors citing the ubiquity of American authors in particular on the prizes annual longlists. In February, 30 publishers signed a letter urging the Booker prize organisers to reverse the change, or risk a homogenised literary future.

I thought it was daft when it was announced and I think it is daft still, Barnes said. The English writer won the 50,000 award in 2011 for The Sense of an Ending after being shortlisted three times previously.

If the Americans had been in it from the start and you think of the richness of the American novel in the 1980s and 1990s, I dont think Flauberts Parrot would have been shortlisted. Last year, there were three American writers [shortlisted] out of six and that means the first-off Zimbabwean novelist who might have been shortlisted isnt there. It was a great endorsement to have my book on the shortlist. And that first step up is very important. And I think there is going to be less of that anyway, thats enough biting the hand that feeds us.

The longlist will be announced at the end of the month. With both novelists having a new book out that will be eligible for this years prize, an audience member asked if they would refuse to allow their future books to be entered out of protest. Barnes said: No, Peter and I are trying to turn this supertanker of an organisation just a little round, arent we. And we feel it is better to be on the ship than off it.

Gaby Wood, literary director of the Man Booker prize, said: It will be no secret, to anyone who makes the calculation, that both of them have books in contention for the Man Booker prize this year. Some people may question the graciousness of making such comments when that is the case, and when they have already won the prize three times between them. Not me: Im in favour of free speech, and always interested in their views.

The world is open. We need to hear from everyone, including Julian Barnes and Peter Carey and were delighted to hear that they still want their books to be submitted for the prize.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jul/08/man-booker-peter-carey-julian-barnes

Do you feel like covering up on politics? Trying a historical novel or some sci-fi? if you cant choose among our time volume special, try our shortlist of absolute must reads

Literary page turner
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
Sophocless Antigone is remodelled for a searingly contemporary narrative on the part of states savagery, Islamist radicalisation and family duty in this years Womens prize winner.

Beach read
Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
Catch up on the whimsical Irish debut about get along with other people and getting to know yourself before Rooneys second romance in September.

Lullaby

Book in translation
Lullabyby Lela Slimani, trans by Sam Taylor
This stylishly written, thoroughly addictive chiller about a seemingly excellent nanny won the Prix Goncourt in its native France.

Science fiction
Gnomon by Nick Harkaway
A mind-bending, countless storied epic about neural networks and the surveillance state.

Historical novel
A Painter to the King by Amy Sackville
Step inside the thoughts and wizards of Diego Velzquez in this virtuosic sketch of the artist and the 17 th-century Spanish court in which he lived and worked.

London

Crime thriller
London Rules by Mick Herron
Political infighting, personal problems and a string of terrorist attack: the fifth in Herrons series about sleuths behaving badly combinations broad-minded jokes, high theatre and razor-sharp plotting.

Book for 8-12s
Twister by Juliette Forrest
Twisters father has gone missing. Examining for him, she determines a sorceres in the groves, a magical pendant that can hold someone and convert its wearer and a terrifying enemy. A rising myth with a refreshingly down to earth heroine.

Teen read
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Magic was bled out of Orsha one gloom light when Zlies mother and another maji were was killed. Can Zelie, struggling to control her strengths, lead the fight to restore it? A beefy, multi-voiced epic with a west African-inspired setting.

Poverty

Current affairs
Poverty Safari by Darren McGarvey
The win of this years Orwell prize, this debut by McGarvey AKA rapper Loki is both a fresh detail of his own hardship and craving and a powerful political argument.

Science
How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan
Psychedelic medicines are approaching the mainstream again, thanks to controlled medical and end-of-life implement. This entertaining investigation by the nutrient writer integrates autobiography and interrogations with trip-up reports he takes sacred mushroom, battery-acid and other substances, with eye-opening results.

Memoir
Educated by Tara Westover
The bestselling detail of growing up in a fundamentalist Mormon family in Idaho with adversity, abuse and parents who didnt believe in institutions or infirmaries ends with flee via education, at Harvard and Cambridge.

History
Maam Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown
An offbeat but dazzling sketch of the insolent and pretentious little sister of the Queen comprises fables, diary enterings and authorial involvements perfect, entertaining speak for junkies of The Crown .

Read more: https :// www.theguardian.com/ journals/ 2018/ jul/ 09/ only-read-one-book-this-summer-shortlist

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