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INTERVIEW: Aquila Ismail

August 12, 2012



Aquila Ismail is the author of Of Martyrs and Marigolds, a novel about the creation of Bangladesh as witnessed by a young woman

What are you reading these days?

I am reading three books, two contemporary and one classic. These include The Book of Disquiet by Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa. When a poet writes prose this is what we get: “And if the office in Rua dos Douradous represents Life for me, the second floor room I live in on that same street represents Art. Yes, Art, living on the same street as Life but in a different room; Art, which offers relief from life without actually relieving one of living, and which is as monotonous as life itself but in a different way. Yes, for me Rua dos Dourados embraces the meaning of all things, the resolution of all mysteries, except the existence of mysteries themselves which is something beyond resolution.”

The other is Pedro Paramo by Mexican writer Juan Rulfo. Rulfo’s surreal novel depicts a man’s strange quest for his heritage in Comala.

And the third is the mandatory classic, Gerard de Nerval’s Sylvie, a novella of extraordinary complexity.

Which books are on your bedside table?

Funeral for a Dog by Thomas Pletzinger, Wittgenstein’s Mistress by David Markson, Terra Amata by J.M.G. Le Clezio, The Blinding Absence of Light by Tahar Ben Jelloun, and The Last Summer of Reason by Tahar Djaout.

As the table is running out of space I have switched to Kindle to accommodate the thousands of books that I still want to own and read.

Which titles are on your bucket list of books?

I want to reread Italo Calvino’s The Baron in the Trees, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, The Cloven Viscount, The Non-Existent Knight et al; Roberto Bolano’s By Night in Chile, to be read for the nth time.

What is the one book/author you feel everyone must read?

I cannot choose one. Everyone must read Stendhal’s The Red and the Black for the author’s ability to register social transformation through the behaviour of individuals; Alejo Carpentier’s Explosion in a Cathedral for the history of the Caribbean and the theme of revolutionary turned tyrant; Maria Dermout’s The Ten Thousand Things for its shimmering strangeness and extraordinary sensuality; Tayeb Salih’s Seasons of Migration to the North for its tale of cultural dissonance between the East and West.

What are you planning to reread?

In the past two years I have reread much of Balzac, Flaubert, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Marquez, Amado, Maupassant, Thackeray, Diderot. I read them to learn how to write.

What is the one book you read because you thought it would make you appear smarter?

Proust. All six volumes of In Search of Lost Time. And it did make me smarter.

What is the one book you started reading but could not finish?

Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne, supposed to be the ultimate English novel. But for the life of me I could not get beyond the first few pages. But I am determined to read it. Also, Gunter Grass’ The Tin Drum, whose opening line, “Granted: I am an inmate in a mental institution” has to be one of the best, but yet I could not get past it, try as I did.

What is your favorite childhood book or story?

The voyages of Sindbad the Sailor, narrated by my mother, over the seven seas and in worlds beyond imagination, perhaps to give us lessons in geography and a love for people and lands far and wide.