The Killing of an Author
Frankfurt 2011 Edition
Category: Biographies & Memoirs
| Work: Story / Narration
Keywords: John Updike
, Sonny Mehta
, Publishing Stories
, Con-man Agents
, Ethnic Pigeonholing
, Big Publishers
, American publishing
, British publishing
, Fourth Estate
, David Davidar
, Publishing Ethics
A critique of Western publishing, colonialism, and a publishing/literary memoir
What are the Publishing Taboos? What role do Sonny Mehta, David Davidar, and Jackie Kennedy play in this story?
THE KILLING OF AN AUTHOR, which has been described as a publishing thriller, is a classic but true story of an Immigrant American Dreamer: a young Indian boy reads Saul Bellow and Somerset Maugham and decides to make it as a writer--in America. His American Dream arises from his small-town, hick upbringing and his family's humble economic and social status; he could never dream of becoming a writer in India. He makes it to America, joins a literary agency running a racket, begins his first novel, does an MFA from Columbia University, attends writers' conferences, meets eminent writers, receives head-turning praise and a super-agent who submits his book in an auction. And then, the nightmare begins--the editors cannot accept an Indian novel with a Catholic background. "Too exotic," says one editor. “Not exotic enough,” says another. The Harvard-educated editor who had shook his hands saying he was honored, and The World’s Most Powerful Editor (TWMPE) who had lunched him, both disappear into silence; TWMPE keeps him on tenterhooks for over a year.
And then he speculates: is it the unfettered sexuality of the book, or the references to Jackie Kennedy, that are the problem? Is it that a black man (and a brown writer) is supposed, in a white-run world, to keep his dick in his pocket? Would this explain why all fiction by successful Indian authors published in the West, especially by male authors, is so sexless?
He decides this is unjust, that this is apartheid; as a democrat, he insists that there be just a single standard for all writers. He decides to fight this injustice, but he is fighting a Shadowy and Invisible Power that hides behind its air-conditioned offices and secretaries. The letters he sends out may be silly, over-dramatic, emotional, and ones that he mostly regrets, once he has sent them out. But he decides, in some part of himself, that if the book is not published in America—which was the entire point of his American Dream—then at least he will, with all the strength he can summon, write the story of the non-publication of this novel. Even if some of these letters are obvious blunders, and may make him look like a schlemiel.
Meanwhile, he is struggling against depression and anxiety, and sometimes from addiction to (and withdrawals from) anxiety-alleviating drugs or antidepressants. The drugs fuel his letters, make him see the world through the glasses of depression and drug side-effects, and often end up exaggerating his emotional pain. He is also fighting a battle: that of living in a household where his wife earns a lot more than he does, and the social disruption caused by this in a society that is still not as liberated as it claims to be. Despite success in India, where the novel is a bestseller, and some initial success in the U.K., things begin to fall apart. Just after he surrenders his novel to a fraudulent American publisher, and discovers he has been conned, his marriage explodes, and he becomes a wanderer, often without a home.
The book now analyzes how the System kills off subversive writers, and how the System often co-opts other writers and colonial establishments in the killing of such writers. It makes suggestions about how to fix some of the injustices in publishing, and also suggests ways in which writing workshops can be more valuable and less destructive of creativity. Though the book was mostly written in the 1990s, it was completed in 2007 when the author was in great financial difficulty and depression.
“Crasta has a sense of humour which he maintains from the start to the end. Funny, sad, and eye-opening. . . .We need more writers like him." --The Deccan Chronicle
"You are funny and delightful . . . I've never read anyone like you. I laugh, I ache, I smile, I cry - but never close the book without that smile surfacing."--Sheelagh Grenon
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About the Author
I grew up in India, the descendant of Goan Konkanis forcibly converted to Catholicism by the Portuguese; I became an agnostic at age 16, about the time I read Bertrand Russell and Saul Bellow, and decided to become a writer. I went to the U.S. to feel more free to pursue my dream.
My first novel, "The Revised Kama Sutra"--was extremely well-received in India and was published in 15 editions in 10 countries and 7 languages. It is the uncensored, uninhibited picture of the life of an Indian male from childhood to adulthood. One review said the book "personifies the post-Independence Indian male"; another said it "encapsulates the feelings of an entire generation of Indian men."
I have published a total of 15 books in print and e-book form combined: they include fiction, nonfiction, cultural and political satire and critiques, and humor.
I have lived much of my adult life in New York, and now spend most of my time in Asia.
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