Siddhartha Deb, born in northeastern India and now residing in Harlem, New York, is an accomplished author. His novels, “The Point of Return” and “An Outline of the Republic,” have garnered acclaim, with the former being a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. His non-fiction work, “The Beautiful and the Damned,” was a finalist for the Orwell Prize and received the PEN Open award. Deb’s insightful journalism and essays have appeared in publications such as The New York Times, The Guardian, The New Republic, n+1, The Nation, and Dissent. We got a chance to have a conversation with the author, you can read the interview below –
What inspired you to write the book ‘The Light at the End of the World?’ Any specific incident(s) you would like to share?
I wanted to read a novel set in India and South Asia that blurred the lines between realism and speculative fiction, that discussed authoritarian politics, but through the occult, the unconscious, and technology, that played with history, the present, and the near future. This novel didn’t seem to exist, and so I decided to sit down and write it.
Bibi reflects a set of people who faced challenging situations during the exchange of currency notes (demonetization). How was the character conceived?
Bibi is very close to my heart in her loneliness, her sense of failure, her deep sense of empathy, and her struggle to be courageous in grappling with the dystopian world she lives in. I have always been drawn to protagonists who don’t quite belong, who are neither fully outsiders nor insiders, and she is a distillation of those attributes.
The book reflects many subjects and themes that question humanity which indicates extensive research done. Can you elaborate?
I read widely and voraciously, both literary fiction and genre fiction as well as reportage, anthropology, and history. I think a lot of the reading over many decades, as well as my interest in film and music, made its way into the novel.
As known, the ghastly incident – the Indian Partition 1947 happened on the basis of religious unrest. Some incidents in the present day also are due to the same reason. Can you comment on this?
Yes, of course, the past bleeds into the present, and that is something the novel tries to capture, especially now, when authoritarian regimes declare that minorities do not belong.
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What is your favorite part of the book and why?
I love them all, but perhaps the Bibi section was particularly engaging for me in playing with the present while also doing a near-future, alternative Delhi.
As the author, what was the most difficult chapter of the book?
They were all hard, but the Bibi section was especially tricky to get right since it is the principal narrative in the book.
The recent Nolan movie ‘Oppenheimer’ is a big question on humanity and most of the countries are resorting to nuclear weapons. One of the book’s chapters talks on similar lines. Do you have something to say about this?
Yes, the book speaks explicitly about the atomic bomb in the 1947 section and has a critique of the obsession with superweapons in all the sections.
Keeping aside the book, delving into your personal choices. What is your favorite book, who is your favorite author, and why?
I love so many authors and books, but perhaps a favorite is 2666 by Roberto Bolaño.
Few words to our readers.
Reading is as creative an act as writing.
The interview was first published in the August 2023 issue of Storizen Magazine.
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