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Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag
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Ghachar Ghochar

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Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag
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Feb 07, 2017 | ISBN 9780143111689

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“A great Indian novel…Folded into the compressed, densely psychological portrait of this family is a whole universe.” 
Parul Sehgal, The New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice)

“[Shanbhag] is a master of inference and omission…What’s most impressive about Ghachar Ghochar…is how much intricacy and turmoil gets distilled into its few pages…[A] wise and skillful book.” 
Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

“A classic tale of wealth and moral ruin and a parable about capitalism and Indian society.”  
The New Yorker

“Within the tight confines of a hundred pages or so, Shanbhag presents as densely layered a social vision of Bangalore as Edith Wharton did of New York in The House of Mirth…He’s one of those special writers who can bring a fully realized world to life in a few pages…The tense fun of reading this vivid, fretful story lies in watching the main characters grab hold of what they think will be rescue ropes, but instead turn out to be slip knots.”
—Maureen Corrigan, NPR

“Great Indian novels…tend towards large tomes, written in English. Now, however, the arrival of a new work has shaken up the status quo: Vivek Shanbhag’s gripping Ghachar Ghochar. This slim volume…packs a powerful punch, both in terms of the precision of its portrait of one Bangalore-based family, and, by extension, what this tells us about modern India….Shanbhag is the real deal, this gem of a novel resounding with chilling truths.”
The Independent (UK)

“A simple story, well told…Its gently comic tone belies a stunning satire, the full power of which is only apparent as the horror of the ending becomes clear.”
—Louise Doughty, The Guardian, “Best Books of 2017”

“Masterful…This stunning Bangalore-set family drama underlines the necessity of reading beyond our borders….Ghachar Ghochar is both fascinatingly different from much Indian writing in English, and provides a masterclass in crafting, particularly on the power of leaving things unsaid.”
–Deborah Smith, The Guardian

“The level of effortless glancing detail with which [Shanbhag] draws minor characters…is extraordinary. That it is one of the few novels translated (beautifully) from Kannada, a language spoken by millions and with its own literary tradition, to be published in the United States says a lot about our literary world’s myopia when it comes to the Indian novel.”
Vulture, “A Premature Attempt at the 21st Century Literary Canon”

Ghachar Ghochar introduces us to a master.” 
—Lorin Stein, The Paris Review

“One of the finest literary works you will ever encounter…a nuanced wonder.”
Irish Times

“A feat of taut, economical storytelling…[with] moments of wonderfully dark, often unexpected, cynicism.” 
Financial Times

“One of the best novels to have come out of India in recent decades.” 
—Pankaj Mishra, author of Age of Anger

“Vivek Shanbhag is an Indian Chekhov.” 
—Suketu Mehta, author of Maximum City

“In this exquisitely observed, wry and moving novel, the smallest detail can conjure entire worlds of feeling. Vivek Shanbhag is a writer of rare and wonderful gifts.”
—Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You

“One of my favorite contemporary writers in English translates one of the leading figures of Kannada literature. The result is mesmerizing, distressing—and altogether brilliant.”
—Karan Mahajan, author of The Association of Small Bombs
“Vivek Shanbhag is one of those writers whose voice takes your breath away at the first encounter.”
—Yiyun Li, author of Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life

“Ghachar Ghochar is one of the most striking novels you’ll read this decade. . . . In Shanbhag’s hands, the Indian family is revealed in layers; as one layer peels away, what lies beneath is left raw and exposed.” 
—Nilanjana Roy, Business Standard (India)

“[Shanbhag is] an extraordinary storyteller — one astutely alive to the competing forces of self-interest and empathy.”
—Jonathan Lee, Electric Literature

“Suketu Mehta deems Vivek Shanbhag ‘an Indian Chekhov’….Shanbhag has earned this lofty comparison.” 
The Globe and Mail (Canada)

“A firecracker of a novel…concise and mesmerizing.” 
Publishers Weekly, starred review

“A Tolstoyan portrait of family conflict and shifting priorities in modern-day India….Captivating.”
Shelf Awareness, starred review

“A compact novel that crackles with tension.” 
Kirkus Reviews

“A delight…You will read Ghachar Ghochar…in part of an evening, about the length of time you’d need to watch one of Chekhov’s masterpieces. You’ll experience the same pleasure.” 

“Very rarely a book comes along that you want to thrust in the hands of everyone—readers and non-readers. Ghachar Ghochar is one such book.” 
—Prajwal Parajuly, The Hindustan Times (India)

“Altogether a delight to read . . . Shanbhag gives us an insider’s feel for the concerns that have shaped the middle class in the last half a century.” 
—Girish Karnad, The Indian Express (India)

“An ingenious tale of how material wealth robs a family of its moral fortitude . . . [Shanbhag] is obviously a master of the form.” 
Mint (India)

Ghachar Ghochar reveals a consummate fiction writer at the height of his powers. . . . a literary sensation across India.”
— (India)

Ghachar Ghochar is a book of distilled simplicity, its surface of seeming artlessness hiding that most complex and complicated of things—truthfully rendered human life. Beautiful, tense, surprising, utterly convincing and wise, and translated with real inspiration by Srinath Perur.”  
—Neel Mukherjee, author of The Lives of Others

“A remarkable novel about the fragile civilities of bourgeois life. The reader becomes absorbed in the unforgiving self-knowledge and expansive humanity contained in every page.” 
—Amit Chaudhuri, author of Freedom Song and Odysseus Abroad

Author Q&A

An Interview with Vivek Shanbhag:
1. What was your initial inspiration for this novel?
This novel was inside me and growing for several years. It is difficult to put my finger on a single incident or experience and say it was the inspiration, but I have a hunch that the seed of the story was sown twenty-five years ago, when I first began working as an engineer. At that time, I worked with a few salespeople, and I vividly remember visiting a salesman’s house where every member of the family was involved in his job. They even knew the codes assigned to hundreds of products he was selling. This may have been the seed, but it takes a lot for a seed to grow into a tree and bear fruit. There is a saying in Kannada, which roughly translates to “one must not try to discover the source of a river;” such efforts inevitably end in disappointment.

2. Neel Mukherjee calls Ghachar Ghochar “a book of distilled simplicity;” indeed, it is a paragon of concision. Was this your intention when you began writing? Is brevity a hallmark of your work?
I started out writing short stories, a form that demands much discipline, and all of my novels are relatively short. I like Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory: that most of the story is beneath the surface, like an iceberg. That does not mean I am always able to live up to that ideal in my writing. But I try not to say a word more than necessary.

3. You were trained as an engineer and worked as one for many years while writing on the side. What was that like?
Literature is my heart and soul. But since it is not possible to make a living by writing in Kannada, I had to have a day job. I worked around this and created the space I needed to read and write regularly.
After holding a job for over twenty-five years, I quit last January to be a full-time writer. However, I must say I enjoyed my professional life immensely. It gave me a lot of exposure, took me around the world, and created opportunities to interact with very interesting people.

4. Your mother tongue is Konkani and you are fluent in English, yet you write only in Kannada. Why is that?
I have written non-fiction in other languages, but fiction writing requires a very deep engagement with the language. When I started writing, Kannada was the language with which I had the strongest emotional and intellectual preoccupation. Therefore, it was natural for me to write fiction in Kannada.
Through language, a fiction writer seeks to touch and grasp unknown dimensions of life. Many times, I am surprised by what appears on the pages of my stories and novels. This is the pleasure and magic of writing. I have this pleasure only when I write in Kannada.

5. How does it feel to be the author of one of the first Kannada novel to be published in the United States?
I am delighted. With the publication of this novel in the United States, I hope to find a wider readership that comes from a different cultural background.

6. Do you feel that polylingual writers have an advantage over those who think, speak, and write only one language?
Yes, there is certainly an advantage. I know four languages. In the part of India that I come from, most people know at least three. In my everyday life, I translate all the time–either explicitly or in my mind. While writing, many times I translate from Konkani to Kannada and English to Kannada. Fortunately, I am not conscious of this process, because otherwise I would not be able to write a word!
With every language comes a different ethos and set of values; a different way of perceiving the world. Moving between multiple languages has deeply influenced my language structure, the phrases I use, and more. In the process, my literary language has developed its own flavor. I do not think this would have been the case if I was monolingual.

7. Who are your favorite writers and literary influences?
I am influenced by many modern as well as ancient Kannada writers. Kannada has an unbroken literary tradition of over a thousand years. It is a privilege to have access to these texts, as well as to be part of a rich literary culture that celebrates Kannada texts and western literature with the same enthusiasm. Some of my favorite western writers include Isaac Bashevis Singer, Tolstoy, Melville, Katherine Anne Porter, José Saramago, Hemingway, Joyce…I could go on and on.

8. You have translated numerous works from English into Kannada and worked closely with the translator of Ghachar Ghochar. Can you talk a bit about that process?
I believe the essence of translation lies in taking what is unsaid in a work from one language to another. Words have memories, a history of their own. There are no two words with exactly the same meaning. To recreate the unspoken in another language, one needs to understand what went into making the original; then one must dismantle it and rebuild it in the other language.
Participating in the translation of my works has made me aware of my strengths and shortcomings as a writer. It is an opportunity like no other to explore and understand one’s own creative abilities.

9. The English version of Ghachar Ghochar contains a few passages that the original does not. What are they and why did you add them?
This the first time I have reopened a published work. My literary agent Shruti Debi nudged me; she believed there was more to the story. It took me six months to respond to her. I added passages describing the couple’s buying spree during their honeymoon and the narrator going through his wife’s wardrobe. Now, I can’t imagine the novel without those passages—though they don’t add up to more than a couple of pages. I am grateful to Shruti for challenging me.

10. What are you working on now?
I am working on a novel and a play. I am also working with Srinath Perur, the translator of Ghachar Ghochar, as he translates another of my novels into English.

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