David Davi­dar’s new novel drama­tises the world of in­ter­na­tional pub­lish­ing

India Today - - LEISURE - By S. Prasan­nara­jan

When the pub­lisher pro­tag­o­nist of David Davi­dar’s third novel Ithaca fin­ished a break­through man­u­script at three in the morn­ing, “the dark­ness be­yond the small cir­cle of light cast by his bed­side lamp seemed to pulse with tremen­dous un­seen pres­ences, not threat­en­ing ex­actly but un­tamed, awe-in­spir­ing, pow­er­ful be­yond imag­in­ing. When a book could do that, lift you out of your­self into a world that you had not known ex­isted, you knew that you held in your hands the sort of trea­sure ev­ery pub­lisher dreams about”. As an in­ter­na­tional pub­lisher, Davi­dar cer­tainly held many such manuscripts in his hands. Then, not con­tent with be­ing the man­ager of other peo­ple’s imag­i­na­tion, he put his own on pa­per. The House of Blue Man­goes was a panoramic fam­ily saga set on the river­bank of mem­ory, span­ning three gen­er­a­tions and fea­tur­ing an ex­hil­a­rat­ing pa­rade of pa­tri­archs and out­casts through the back al­leys of his­tory. In The Soli­tude of Em­per­ors, a novel set in here and now, we saw a sec­u­lar ide­al­ist at full play; the book was an ar­gu­ment against the vi­o­la­tions of re­li­gion. Now Davi­dar has writ­ten his eas­i­est book.

Zachariah Thomas, like the nov­el­ist him­self till a few months ago, is a ris­ing star in in­ter­na­tional pub­lish­ing. Sud­denly, his life in Lon­don is stag­nant in an un­cer­tain plateau—es­tranged wife, strug­gling com­pany, and the ab­sence of that his­tory-shift­ing man­u­script—when an author comes to his res­cue, or damna­tion. The leg­end of Zach is built on the pub­li­ca­tion of the Ital­ian writer Mas­simo Seppi’s An­gels quar­tet— An­gels Ris­ing, An­gel Dust, The War of An­gels, and An­gels Fall­ing. They are his own Dan Brown mul­ti­plied or J.K. Rowl­ing grown up or J.r.r.tolkien up­dated. Seppi’s death co­in­cides with the com­pany’s de­cline and there is now an ir­re­sistible takeover bid from an in­dus- try gi­ant. He re­turns to post­hu­mous Seppi for re­cov­ery but his last un­pub­lished An­gel novel, bought from the nov­el­ist’s es­tate for a mul­ti­mil­lion dol­lar ad­vance, af­ter rul­ing the best­sellers lists for a while, be­comes a pub­lish­ing scan­dal as large sec­tions of the novel are ex­posed as pla­gia­rism. Zach sinks.

This is a book for those who want to know the mak­ing of a book—if not the un­mak­ing of a book wiz. At times, Ithaca is a con­ducted tour through the world of pub­lish­ing—and the mind of the pub­lisher. So he tells first nov­el­ists: “Why on earth don’t they throw cau­tion to the winds, give their work a great claw­ing dis­tinc­tive­ness, an ir­re­sistible force that will sweep the reader along from the very first page?” This one about Frank­furt book fair: “The well known cliché about Frank­furt—that its whores go on hol­i­day when the book fair comes to town be­cause all the pub­lish­ing folk are busy f***ing each other, both lit­er­ally and metaphor­i­cally—is based on more than just in­dus­try folk­lore.” Davi­dar even gives a de­serv­ing pat on his back as he goes po­etic about the mak­ing of Vikram Seth’s A Suit­able Boy: “When Vikram de­cided to have his mas­ter­piece…edited, type­set, printed, bound, and pub­lished in In­dia, ev­ery­one thought he was crazy.” Most tellingly, Ithaca is writ­ten by a nov­el­ist who has a writer to drop for ev­ery oc­ca­sion: Borges for Delhi traf­fic; James Wood for the art of the novel; and Rushdie for test­ing the lim­its of a sto­ry­teller’s tal­ent. You won’t miss Hem­ing­way, Ker­ouac, Kun­dera, Lampe­dusa, and many such lu­mi­nar­ies pop­ping up mid-sen­tence to un­der­line the ideas of Davi­dar.

Ithaca is about a sub­ject which could not have been writ­ten with such in­sider’s brio by any other In­dian writer. On the clos­ing page, we see Zach, fallen but serene, wait­ing for an An­gelic in­ter­ven­tion. Worth wait­ing with him for the next page.

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