Wednesday, August 05, 2009
On the occasion of a radio appearance by Hirsh Sawhney (editor of Delhi Noir, Akashic's new book in its international noir series) along with blogger extraordinaire Peter Rozovsky, I'm posting a review of Delhi Noir today. Check Peter's blog, Detectives Beyond Borders, for details of the radio show, which should be available on the Wisconsin Public Radio website as a live feed or an archived audio. I don't know how Akashic does it--they find writer/editors all over the world that know just who to solicit new noir stories from in a given city. Delhi Noir has the usual high quality of the series along with an unusual continuity of tone (beyond just the setting) in the stories, so that the book reads almost like an episodic novel rather than a collection. Part of the tone is the language: the speakers in these stories (and there's a lot of dialogue) are polyglot, native speakers in a jumble of the native languages of Delhi and India, and there's a helpful glossary at the back of the book--though the stories so skilfully weave the non-English terms and the slang into the dialogue that a reader usually does not need to break the rhythm of the story to check the glossary. The overarching motif is the conflict of rich and poor, new wealth and old social practices, in the city of Delhi today. Sawhney makes the point in his introduction that Delhi doesn't have the tradition of crime fiction that exists in some other Indian cities, perhaps (says Sawhney) because of the character of the capital city's denizens, who aren't interested in the cruelty and inequity that might burst the bubble of their booming rise to capitalist or bureaucratic bliss. And cruelty and inequity are here in this collection in abundance, ameliorated by comedy, revenge (particularly in the science-fiction crime tale that ends the collection), and frequently a melancholy acceptance of the way things are at the bottom of the social structure. Rather than singling out individual writers (some still living in Delhi, some elsewhere in India, and some in the Indian diaspora) for praise, for now I will just advise you to get this collection asap, whether you're interested in India, international noir, crime fiction, or just good writing. Akashic scores again with Delhi Noir.