You have to believe in Tolstoy’s dictum if you are a humanist. Does the human heart beat differently in a park in Perth than it does in a yurt in Mongolia? No, clearly not, but there are differences. A part of being human—and the emotions we inhabit—is our location in cultural and physical landscapes that are varied. Our responses are varied. A large part of the work a writer does is to draw more intricate or elaborate maps of all these similarities and differences.
In the past four days I have been in Dubai, Sharjah, and now Mumbai, attending literary events. I cannot honestly say that everything I write translates equally well across all locations. But I know that some writers translate better than most others. Chekhov is a great example. His writing travels well, not only across time but across places; he is fully faithful to the living context from which his stories come, but there is little in his writing that is not essential. In other words, translatability, in the broadest sense, is a sophisticated maneuver. You dive deep into the cold and there is nothing there, no debris, no other creatures, nothing other than the writer alone with his or her art. It is so quiet you can hear your heart beating. I’m making it melodramatic—what I really want to say is that I’m not a writer if I repress my difference, but I’m aware that I’m only a slight writer if all I have going for me is my difference.
—Amitava Kumar (@amitavakumar) was born in Ara, India, and grew up in the nearby town of Patna, famous for its corruption, crushing poverty, and delicious mangoes. His new book, A Matter of Rats: A Short Biography of Patna, is now available–in case you’d like to read a book Teju Cole calls “recklessly courageous.” Kumar is the author of A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb, Nobody Does the Right Thing, Passport Photos, and Husband Of A Fanatic. His writing has appeared in The New Statesman, The Nation, Harper’s, American Prospect, Transition, and other publications.
(photo: Neeraj Priyadarshi)
2paragraphs gives special thanks to Anderson Tepper for curating our International Writers Interviews. Mr. Tepper is on the staff of Vanity Fair and is a Contributing Editor at Words Without Borders.