“Last night, my wife accused me of being menopausal. She said that I was having a midlife crisis, and I needed help. The truth is, I don’t know any better,” the mesmerizing Indian writer Shubhangi Swarup ‘s short story “Confessions of a Menopausal Man” begins. “I’m a responsible man. I have quadrupled my parents’ financial portfolio over the years. I don’t let my wife go alone to the gynaec, as I know they scare her, those swabs and prods. So what if I go drinking with my buddies, leaving her alone with the baby, I know when his next vaccination is due! It’s on my Google calender.”
A novelist, a journalist, a racounteur and a great interview subject herself (see the charming YouTube interview with her below), Swarup wrote “Confessions of a Menopausal Man” from the point of view of a man, and if you read the story online here, you will be amazed her fluid and fluent dexterity in putting herself into the voice of a male narrator. I read the story the other day and was blown away by its approach to gender.
“The rise of a single degree may have caused the catastrophe, but when all life vanishes, it feels oddly cold” is how one reviewer described this very original short story, adding: “Shubhangi Swarup examines the psyche of a man who finds himself nurturing a young life at a time when the planet is sending strong warnings to humanity.”
Do read the short story here.
And see a video interview with the author by TV host Sharin Bhatti here.
Shubhangi Swarup was born in 1982 in India. She is now a bestselling novelist, too. “Latitudes of Longing,” her well-received first novel, came out in 2018 and garnered a host of appreciative reviews. The manuscript faced many obstacles before one enterprising publisher took a gamble on it.
“I wanted to use my first chapter [in my novel] in the application for a fellowship but I was told that it lacked flow. This naturally upset me,” Swarup good-naturedly told an interviewer, explaining that at first like many first-time novelists she faced an uphill battle in finding a publisher. But what was initially a disjointed and disconnected way of telling a story, staccato almost, eventually became her strength.
“The words on the page would freeze up when I tried to impose my will,” she admitted. So she just went with the flow and the flow won.
The 36-year-old writer’s debut novel has now taken the Indian literary community by storm, and has also been sold to several countries in translation in French, Swedish and Norwegian, among others. This is the making of a major Indian literary debut which won the Tata Literature Live First Book Award in 2018. It’s only available in English now, but it could reach a global audience soon since it’s set to come out in several foreign languages, according to book industry sources in New York.
Publishers Weekly, a major trade magazine in the English-speaking world, gives the novel high marks, nothing that Swarup’s book “depicts a sweeping view of the Earth through the lives of interconnected characters, including a scientist who studies trees and a clairvoyant who speaks to them.” Translation rights have already been sold to publishers in France, Norway and Sweden, with more to come, PW said.
Could a Hollywood movie be far behind? If Yann Martel’s bestseller “Life of Pi” was turned into a movie by master director Ang Lee of Taiwan, surely a movie option for Swarup’s debut wonder is being talked about by Hollywood producers as we speak. It’s that good, and has wild cinematic possibilties.
“The writing is exquisite and [Swarup] tells a compelling story, beginning at the beginning and ending at the end, the way good old stories used to run,” wrote Indian book reviewer Latha Anantharaman. “Lyrical, original and heartbreaking, ‘Latitudes of Longing’ is a vast novel. In order to write in such detail about so many global locations, the author obviously had to do a great amount of research, and yet it has the ring of total authenticity. A wonderful book which, with landscape, Earth and sea as principal characters, seemed to invent a genre all of its own.”
Call it Indian magical surrealism.
“A brilliant debut that blends natural with supernatural, human with otherworldly,” said another reviewer in Mumbai.
If there is just one Indian novel you read in 2019, let it be this one. It will broaden your horizons, wherever you live.