June 02, 2020
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India Abroad: Midnight's Children meets Tom Jones in Hari Kunzru's debut novel; Nayana Spencer's Grass of Leaves wins award...

IF there is one unrevealed side of the outgoing American ambassador's wife, it is that she thinks, and as passionately as she parties. The camera-friendly former cbs journo has decided to write a book on a Lt Col Donald Carl Lundquist, 38 then and much-decorated, who died shortly after a compulsory year in Vietnam. Jacqueline, who was five when he died, inherited the story of this mystery man through 300 letters and 40 half-hour tapes that he sent to her mother from the war front. These posthumous family treasures lay unexplored with the author for 29 years until she began rummaging through them when she was pregnant with Sam, now three and a half. From total amnesia to a "kind of sexy" biography of the father that includes dug-out pictures and vignettes, Jackie promises a so-far-untold war story of a soldier, a householder and ultimately a tragic hero. But before she decides to throw the story open to the world, she's visiting Vietnam ("in fall when I come to India") to earn her own view of the country's history and politics. We hope she surprises us once again!

IT must've been quite a weekend read. Hari Kunzru submitted the first draft of his book on a Friday. By Monday morning his phone was ringing. The book was sold to publishers in Britain and the US for $1.8 million. Kunzru, whose father's from Kashmir and mother English, grew up in Essex, which is to London what Haryana is to Delhi. The story of The Impressionist resembles his own: a young man of mixed parentage dealing with different worlds. He's described the book as "Midnight's Children meets Tom Jones"; his agent calls it "accessible, funny and a great story". And yes, Hollywood is interested.

Talking of nri achievements, here's another. Nayana Spencer, all of 18, wins the Guardian Award for Poetry. We don't know how exactly her debut collection is influenced by Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, but her Grass of Leaves impressed poet laureate Ted Hughes enough to call her "one of the most original and perceptive voices in poetry today."

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