A literary harvest!

Jhumpa Lahiri, Amitav Ghosh and Salman Rushdie are set to spice up this summer with their latest works. ZIYA US SALAM reports

Cliff Richards may not be your companion, but this promises to be the summer of many dreams, each quenching the thirst of bibliophiles. Forget those long tomes, those cumbersome if beautiful coffee table books. This is the time for novels. Time for Jhumpa Lahiri, Amitav Ghosh, Salman Rushdie, each of whom is reaping a literary harvest. Talking of families from Boston to Bangkok, narrating stories with a feel that transcends all divides.

Leading the pack is Jhumpa Lahiri with “Unaccustomed Earth” which has been launched in a unique way. Brought out by Random House, the book has been preceded by a “first-of-its-kind campaign”, as Random House’s Chiki Sarkar puts it. “A whole short story was published in a couple of papers. Earlier something like that could happen only in the U.S. It was a coup for us. We have got an overwhelming response after the story was published. We had to create a separate mail box with people across the spectrum writing in. There were housewives, retired defence officers, students, engineers, everybody who is not necessarily into books. We got some 4,000 mails and gave away 35 free copies of the book! Many people were upset at being left out!”

Aditi Sarawagi, a young reader wrote to Lahiri after reading Hell Heaven, a short story from “Unaccustomed Earth”, “This story touches a chord with me as I’m sure it will with so many others because of the characters which can be so easily related to.” Another reader Mayank Kakkar wrote, “I read Hell Heaven article...It was written with such beauty that all the odds of life, all the joys of life were displayed excellently…I am not much of a reader but still your story left me spellbound.”

Jhumpa Lahiri did not make it for the launch though. Not that it mattered. The media abroad has been all gaga. And Indian readers virtually competing to lay their hands on the copy. A respected foreign paper called “Unaccustomed Earth” “emotionally intricate and exquisitely crafted”. Another called the author “a succinct realist writer”. Yet another lavished such praise as to call Lahiri’s work “a great book”.

Huge canvas

To be launched here almost at the same time as in the United Kingdom, “The Enchantress of Florence” marks Rushdie’s return to form. As Sarkar puts it, “it is his lightest novel, a shorter book, more fashionable, has verve, a page-turning ability. After “Moor’s Last Sigh”, it is probably the best book.”

The book has a huge canvas. It is set in the time of Emperor Akbar but moves between cultures and geographies at great speed, touching on the Ottomans, the Renaissance and the like! The book is unlikely to have a new marketing strategy. Rushdie has given select interviews. Then there are going to be book reviews and television appearances. As Sarkar says, “There is a healthy print order. The distributors have booked copies.” The campaign is more low key, more discrete, keeping in mind that Rushdie is “a writer’s writer”!

Giving them a run for their spot in the limelight is Amitav Ghosh whose “Sea of Poppies” is the first part of a trilogy he is doing for Penguin India. The publishers are not taking any chances. They are taking the book to the readers with a multi-city launch this coming June.

Master storyteller

“Sea of Poppies” is said to be an intensely human work that confirms his reputation as a master storyteller. At the heart of this epic saga is a vast ship, The Ibis. The crew is a motley array of sailors and stowaways, coolies and convicts. The sweep of this historical adventure spans the lush poppy fields by the Ganga, the rolling high seas, and the exotic backstreets of China at the time of the Opium Wars.

Unlike Lahiri and Rushdie, Ghosh will be personally around for the launch that promises to be a multi-media affair with lots of interactions with the author besides excerpts in leading publications. There is a lot of pre-booking for Ghosh’s work already.

According to the spokesperson of Penguin India, “It is a high end literary fiction, probably the best in the year. The way we promote an Amitav book is bound to be different from the way we promote Shobhaa De. It is going to be a big literary campaign.”

Even as Penguin comes up with new editions of Amitav’s earlier works, “Sea of Poppies” will be promoted online too with chats and tie-ups with retail chains and bookstores across the country. Besides offering signed copies, the publishers will have extensive tie-ups with print and electronic media, including offering excerpts before the formal launch.

Jhumpa Lahiri, Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh…three aces for a summer? Not bad! Now if the summer could be longer!

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