Tahmima Anam: The Granta Podcast, Ep. 76


Photo by Zahedul I Khan

The final in Granta‘s series of podcasts featuring the Best of Young British Novelists 4, I speak with Tahmima Anam about making a home in London and migration. Anam is the author of the Bengal Trilogy, which chronicles three generations of the Haque family from the Bangladesh war of independence to the present day. Her debut novel, A Golden Age, was awarded the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book. It was followed in 2011 by The Good Muslim. ‘Anwar Gets Everything’, in the issue, is an excerpt from the final instalment of the trilogy, Shipbreaker, published in 2014 by Canongate in the UK and HarperCollins in the US.

Granta Podcast: Sarah Hall


In which I interview one of my favorite authors, and we discuss wolves, tattoos and the power of landscape. Sarah Hall was born in Cumbria and lives in Norwich. She is the multiple-prize-winning author of four novels: Haweswater, The Electric Michelangelo, The Carhullan Army (published in the US as Daughters of the North) and How to Paint a Dead Man; a collection of short stories, The Beautiful Indifference, original radio dramas and poetry.

One of my favorite stories by Hall is the BBC Short Story Award shortlisted ‘Butcher’s Perfume.’ It begins:

“Later, when I knew her better, Manda told me how she’d beaten two girls at once outside the Cranemakers Arms in Carlisle. She said all you had to do was keep hold of one, keep hold of one and keep hitting her. No matter what the other was doing to you, you kept that first one pinned, and you kept hammering her, so the free-handed bitch could see you were able to take a flailing and still have her mate at the same time. It’d get into the lass’s head then, Manda said, what it would be like when the mate got put down, and you went to batter her next without a silly dog on your back making you slow. Chances were you wouldn’t have to fight them both. And if you did,that second one would be so fleart from you being still upright after her best, undefended go, she’d forget any moves she knew.”

Photo by Richard Thwaites.

A Granta interview with Tania James

Tania James is a novelist and short story writer whose ‘Lion and Panther in London’ is featured in Granta’s Britain. In her latest collection, Aerogrammes and Other Stories, out this May in the United States, James opens a window onto a world marked by loneliness, obsession and wild animals. Granta’s Saskia Vogel speaks to the author about writing from a child’s perspective, Mary Swann’s ‘The Deep’, and the author’s alleged anger issues.

SV: ‘Lion and Panther in London’ tells of two brothers from Lahore who come to London to seek their fortunes as wrestlers. They find themselves confronted by the oddities of life in London in 1910, including crowded living spaces and ‘the sort of fare that would render them leaden in body and mind’. Tell me a bit about the genesis of this story and how your idea of Britain influenced it.

TJ: I came across an old book called Strong Men Over the Years, a rare and remarkable account of Indian wrestlers around the turn of the century, including Gama the Great and his brother Imam. I was actually doing some very dry research on the Indian Students’ Movement, but that book was lively, comic, nostalgic and completely addictive in its illustration of these Indian superheroes.

I only had a vague idea of Britain, let alone London in 1910. But ‘Strong Men’ brought certain details to surface, such as the wrestlers’ total bafflement over the Western suit – why would anyone wear something so snug and restrictive? The more I understood about these wrestlers and their very rigorous way of life, the more freedom I felt in rendering their environment, and how they might be at odds with it.

Your story ‘What to do with Henry’ moves from the perspective of a young boy who finds a baby chimpanzee and sells it at a market to the mother who purchases it, then to chimpanzee and so on. In fact, each story in the collection unfolds in a striking and unexpected way. What is it about the short form that appeals to you?

I do love how the short form allows for some risky moves. For example aI like that children have their own way of seeing, their own elastic vocabulary for explaining the worldstory can be the perfect vessel for a particular voice, or a chorus of voices, which would be harder to sustain over the course of a novel (I’m thinking of Mary Swann’s ‘The Deep’, for example). Certainly novels can and should take risks but maybe I feel more freedom in the short story form because if it fails halfway in, I don’t feel an urge to toss myself out the window.

In the collection, many of the stories have a child as a protagonist. What is it about children’s perspectives that you find compelling?

There’s a Chekhov story ‘A Trifle from Life’, which follows the perspective of a little boy named Alyosha and ends by referring to the ‘great many things for which the language of children has no expression’. I like that children have their own way of seeing, their own elastic vocabulary for explaining the world, before their minds have been entrenched with other people’s perceptions.

Your stories often engage with South Asians in the United States and a dissonance between the two cultures. Why are these stories important?

These stories are important to me, not because they happen to be about South Asians, but because they’re circling around a certain strain of loneliness that goes deeper than cultural dissonance, that has to do with the yearning to connect with someone else, or with some unreachable vision of home. That experience isn’t uniquely specific to first – or second – generation immigrants; it’s universal, and thus compelling territory for fiction.

‘What to do with Henry’, ‘Lion and Panther in London’ and ‘The Scriptological Review’, a story about a boy who compulsively analyses handwriting: each of these explores a different world. What comes first – an encounter with scriptology or the story idea? And what kind of research is involved?

A handwriting analyst studied my signature and told me I had latent anger issues, as evidenced by the tiny hook in my T. That seemed a little nuts to me, but slightly possible, so of course my imagination began to wander in that direction. I started looking into handwriting analysis – the technical term is graphology – but I didn’t delve too deeply into any real study. I was more interested in a guy who makes up his own kind of convoluted logic. Explaining that logic, in his voice, was probably the most entertaining part of writing the story.

You’ve published Atlas of Unknowns, a novel, and Aerogrammes is published in May, as is your story in the Granta. What’s next in store?

It’s a long way off, but as of now, it’s a novel involving wild elephants and those who tangle with them.

What’s the best advice you’ve received as a writer?

Write the story that unsettles and excites you, that keeps you coming back to your desk.

Originally published on Granta.com on 11 May 2012.

Read Me Something You Love: Rikki Ducornet’s Netsuke

When the wonderful Steve Wasserman from Read Me Something You Love asked me to join him on his podcast, Rikki Durcornet jumped to mind immediately. As readers of my blog will know well, I have been shouting my love of her novel Netsuke from the rooftops for…well, it’s coming up to a year.

The book was recommended to me by a critic in Los Angeles and on a visit to the Granta offices in NYC, I found an extra copy in our stacks of books. (We have, as you can imagine, the most wonderful stacks of books.) It was one of those magical reading experiences. The book broke open my understanding of the novel and the possibility of language. I read a few of those books this past year: Play It As it Lays (Didion), The Color of Night (Smartt Bell), The Passion (Winterson), Welcome to the Goon Squad (Egan). It was a great year for reading as a writer working on book.

I won’t go on and on about Netsuke, the powerful, precise poetic prose here… I’ll leave that to Steve and me on the podcast. Click here for a reading of an excerpt from Netsuke and a chat about lust, lies and unethical analysts. When you’re done visit the Human Reading Beings project, particularly of interest to lovers of the print book.

Granta Podcast: Jeanette Winterson

This week on the Granta podcast, I talk to Jeanette Winterson about her new memoir ‘Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?’. I hope you can’t tell that I was so excited to meet her, I was a bundle of nerves. She was lovely. A dear friend introduced me to her via The Passion, which broke open how I think about the novel. Do check out her stories in Granta issues 115, 43, 39 and 23.

She’s on tour in the US at the moment.

Granta.com: Urvashi Butalia

With‘Mona’s Story’, Urvashi Butalia shows us the world of hijras, communities of transsexuals in India, whose strictures can often seem as rigid as those of a more traditional family life. Mona discovered that the price of joining a hijra community would be losing contact with her daughter.

Butalia spoke to Granta’s Saskia Vogel about her career in feminist publishing, and how researching this essay affected her relationship with Mona, forcing her to re-examine her notions of sexual identity. This interview was originally published on Granta.com. Photo by Shanker Chakravarty.

SV: Do you think the feminist movement in India differs from Western feminism?

UB: I believe that feminist movements everywhere in the world are born of the particular political and economic realities of the places where they exist. In that sense, each movement has different issues and concerns. And yet, despite cultural and economic differences, there are issues that women share worldwide that have been the concern of feminists. For example, the different forms of violence against women, wages for housework, security in the workplace and so on.

So these would be common. The Indian women’s movement has a long history, although if you were to read some of the early books on the history of feminism published in the West, you would think feminist activism never existed in countries like ours. I find that infuriating – the lack of knowledge, or desire for it, and the assumption that the West is the centre of the world and the rest of us just poor cousins. The Indian women’s movement is rooted in our political realities, in the history of colonialism and social reform, in the coming-into-its-own of an independent democracy with all sorts of guarantees for women and in the state’s failure to deliver on many of these. Our activism arose out of that. Because of where we are located and the history of India, there is no way the feminist movement can divorce itself, say, from issues of poverty, development, women’s health, education, religious identity … and this is where our specificity lies.

I also think that whenever questions are asked about how movements in different parts of the world are ‘different’ there is often an assumption that the differences are in some sort of hierarchy, where countries of the southern hemisphere, say, have somehow lost out in the race and are different because they haven’t caught up with the more advanced countries. Again, I think this is very unfortunate and a load of nonsense.

Tell us about your first awareness of feminism.

I’m not sure. I think I’ve always been something of a feminist – my mother is a remarkable woman, she’s ninety today, and all her life she has been more feminist than anyone I know. We lived with my paternal grandmother, and lovely as she was, she thought girls were not up to much. Whenever she had goodies for us, my father would get first share, then my two brothers and then my sister and me. My mother taught us not to accept this discrimination. So I guess that could be said to be a beginning.

Then, I was lucky enough to be at university in the late sixties and early seventies in India. These were years of tremendous excitement and political activity, discussions, demos, meetings, protests, sit-ins at our universities, and we were caught up in the excitement. It was at this time that many of us began to raise questions about women and their role in patriarchal organizations. I remember becoming the president of the students’ union in my college, a women’s college. At the time the Delhi University Students’ Union, which was meant to represent all colleges in the university, was a totally male-dominated organization and no women’s college had ever joined it. We were the first to do so, and today the union is dominated by women. It was also at this time that we began to form the early women’s groups, and I was very involved in those. In the mid-seventies some of us came together to start a women’s magazine called Manushi – I left that a year and a half later, but it was one of the first to try and represent what was happening with women in India.

Also in 1975 the Indian government published the results of the first ever survey of Indian women called Towards Equality: Report of the Committee on the Status of Women in India. Those of us who were cutting our feminist teeth in India at the time were shocked into greater awareness by this report, written and researched by some of the best-known women in India, and this propelled us further into feminism.

In the beginning of ‘Mona’s Story’, you talk about interviewing Mona for a book that collects unusual stories about the Partition of India. How do you approach writing history?

I’m not a historian, I don’t have the training – although I did major in history at university but I have not kept up with academics; instead I became a publisher. However, I came to the history of Partition purely by accident. I’m from a family of Partition refugees, it’s amazing how many Punjabi families in northern India are, and I had grown up hearing stories about Partition in the family. Although my family did not face any direct physical violence, my mother’s brother stayed behind in what became Pakistan, and he kept my grandmother back, as a result of which my family did not get any compensation on this side (people who left properties behind did, but if relatives stayed on those properties, they did not). But I had paid really no attention to the importance of these stories until in 1984, when Indira Gandhi was killed in Delhi by her Sikh bodyguards, and people turned on the Sikhs in an orgy of revenge. I began to see what violence could do to a society and this turned my attention to Partition. The first step I took was to go to Pakistan and find my uncle … this was the first time anyone had sought him out. It was exactly forty years after Partition, and that encounter opened my eyes to how history can play itself out in people’s lives.

Has your friendship with Mona affected how you think about biology and gender?

Yes, very much. It’s raised many questions for me. I speak about some of them in the essay. I’m fascinated by her desire for motherhood for example. As a feminist, I have grown up convinced that motherhood is not only biological; but to think of a man (and Mona was a man when she knew she wanted to be a mother) wanting to be a mother was still an education for me. My identity as a woman has always been something very precious, very enabling, very empowering – despite the fact that women have to face violence and discrimination – but I have never thought of travel between identities, of switching from one to the other. And yes, gender too, for of course as a feminist, I know gender is not about biology but about socialization, but again, I had never thought of the kinds of issues Mona raises for me. Is she a man or a woman? She assumes both roles; is this exciting or manipulative? Some years ago we had a women’s conference in Kolkata, and at these conferences, which are unfunded and organised by activists within the movement, everyone sleeps in the same place. One of the big questions was whether we should have hijras sleep in the same place as the women, for were they really women or men?

Because of who she is, Mona has also made me rethink issues of class and marginalization, and indeed citizenship. Why should our passports or ID documents only allow us to describe ourselves as male or female? They leave out all the people who are in between. Recently India has introduced a category for the third gender here, so now Mona and her friends who may want to identify themselves as such can officially exist.

You set up the feminist publishing house Kali for Women. What were the challenges of this venture, and what’s your favourite thing that’s come out of it?

There were many challenges: whether we’d be able to succeed, not necessarily in monetary terms (though there was that too) but whether we’d be able to encourage, persuade, cajole women to write and to believe in their writing; whether we’d be able to maintain quality, to earn respect for our enterprise; whether we’d be able to retain our politics in the face of the onslaught of the market; whether one could be a feminist boss, bringing the learning of the women’s movement to the world of work, employment, hierarchy…

Very early on in our history, in 1987, we were approached by a group of village women and four urban activists. The women belonged to a large development programme in Rajasthan called the Women’s Development Programme. They had created a book called Shareer ki Jaankari (in Hindi, the title means ‘Knowing our Bodies’). This was a book that took the village woman through the woman’s life and bodily changes from infancy to girlhood, through marriage to old age. They told us a wonderful story about the book – that originally, because it was a book about women’s bodies, they had drawn pictures of the naked female body, then they’d tested two handmade copies of the book in villages around, and the feedback had been, ‘How can you call such a book realistic, you never see a naked woman in a village!’ So they went back to the drawing board. They produced pictures of women fully dressed, covered from head to toe, and then found a unique way of showing how they were made, by introducing little flaps that you lifted up and you saw the vagina, the breasts and so on … and they asked if we would be willing to publish this book.

This is every feminist publisher’s dream! A book created by and for poor women, a book that goes beyond the middle-class educated reader, and a book about real, important issues. We agreed instantly, but the women had a condition – we had to promise them that any copies bought by village women would be sold at cost, so we would not make a profit on those. We agreed, and today, we have sold over 70,000 copies of this book, not one through a bookshop, every single one to women or NGOs in villages. We’ve earned no money on it, but we haven’t lost any either.

I’d say this is what I set out to do, and this is what provides the oxygen!

What advice do you have for young feminists who want to hear (or want to make heard) more feminist voices?

I’d say come on in, there’s almost nothing that you can do that is so important, so what are you waiting for?

Granta Interview: Ben Okri

Ben Okri grapples with deep, elemental issues in his latest book, A Time for New Dreams (published today). With this series of ‘poetic essays’, the Booker Prize-winner and one of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists employs a unique style to elucidate his ideas about the modern world. He illustrates how the economic meltdown and environmental catastrophes have brought us to a crossroads.

Granta’s Saskia Vogel spoke with Ben about his new take on the essay form, his love of Montaigne and whether his new book represents a manifesto. Originally published here at Granta.com.

SV: The essays in your collection, A Time for New Dreams, are redolent with stirring observations on poetry, childhood and other themes. How did you come to write this new book? Were you writing for a specific reader?

BO: I tend to write books of essays with a theme running through them. It takes a while for the theme to coalesce for me. It can sometimes be years before I know that certain pieces of writing resonate and belong together. But I am always listening.

My first collection of essays, A Way of Being Free, coalesced around the idea of freedom, but it was more an attitude, an orientation even. It was generously received and it took me a while to think I could say something beyond that. A Time For New Dreams is not a collection of essays in a normal sense. Essays are usually a full exploration of an idea and they give evidence and quotations along the way. That

…for most of us, childhood was a period of our most intense and furious dreaming.

was too laborious for what I was trying to do in this book. I felt a need to bring about a marriage of forms and was interested in finding the place where poetry and the essay meet, which is why A Time For New Dreams is subtitled ‘poetic essays’. I sense that poetic essays, or what I tried to do in this book, should be an essay with the brevity and spring of poetry. The astonishing thing about poetry is that it leaps to place itself having already done all the thinking and imagining required, and gives you the fruit of that meditation. That is what I wanted with this collection.

I imagine a reader who, like me, is a bit exasperated with the accumulation of the follies of our times, someone ready for a new way of looking, thinking and being; someone who combines youth and experience, idealism and realism. Someone who isn’t afraid to dream but also is not afraid to roll up their sleeves and participate in the tough magic of life.

In many of the essays – ‘The Romance of Difficult Times’, for example – you number the paragraphs, some of which are as short as a single line. Other essays, such as ‘Photography and Immortality’, take a more standard prose form. How do you decide on the structure of your texts?

I find that the structure emerges from the idea itself. Sometimes an idea can almost become too luxuriant in its expression and you need a structure, not to tame it, but to arrive at what, for me, is the ideal in the form of the compressed essay. This gives an idea of expressiveness combined with restraint, power held back by form, intensity that’s not allowed to explode all over the place but to have a pouncing feel. And only the right form will do that.

Every piece ought to have something of the quality of a living thing – a slight quality of immeasurability – and only in its true form can it achieve this. Also, I like brevity of thought. There are few things more powerful in writing than a strong thought, whether a thesis or anti-thesis, expressed briefly. It is a paradox contained in a nutshell. I like powerful small units, so the aphorism threads its way through this volume.

There are these varied forms as the book is also structured round an idea of a suite, with a leading melody running through it – the melody of childhood. This is the foremost melody because, for most of us, childhood was a period of our most intense and furious dreaming. The title, A Time For New Dreams, is just a hint that it would be good to recover that dreaming in adulthood and to have that elasticity of imagination in our adult years. So the melody of childhood is the keynote, running against other melodies of politics and censorship.

I felt an echo of Milan Kundera’s Art of the Novel in your book. Do you feel A Time for New Dreams is in dialogue with certain other texts?

First of all, it is lovely that you felt Kundera’s presence and at least some sort of dialogue with The Art of the Novel. Kundera is also inclined towards the aphoristic and the clearer, most direct statement – rather than endless exposition.

…many, many of the old dreams are exhausted or are proving moribund and severely limited

I have always loved the essay form and it is one of the forms I fell in love with very early on as I read my way through my father’s library. I developed a real affection for great English essays of 18th century. But my chief affection has to be for the essays of Francis Bacon, which have an extraordinary combination of brevity and the highest thought. He is unmatched in the way in which he can say so much in such a short space. He boiled these essays down over years to such a point that people who read them at the time, his wife included, just couldn’t make out what he was saying. They were so gnomic. This is the impact of the poetic on the essay form. It is the fruit, the distillation, not the whole journey.

The complete opposite of Bacon, I also love the essays of Montaigne – who is more expository and fluid, as he takes his time and wanders through classical antiquity. He loves his Greek and Roman authors, and quotes liberally – and he always expresses more uncertainty.

Between Bacon and Montaigne is something of where my feelings lie. Although I quoted from other writers in my early years, I am not a big fan of citing other people too much. I now think that if you have something you have thought about and what to share with folks, you need to say it yourself and find the best way to say it. People can always go back and read the old masters themselves.

You write: ‘Beauty leads us all, finally, to the greatest questions of all, to the most significant quest of our lives’ This transports me back to the first essay, ‘Poetry and Life’. How do poetry and beauty mingle in their purposes, and in their effects on people?

Whenever we use the word beauty or we feel it, it comes from a sense of something indefinable. The mind can’t quite pin down what it was that created that emotiton or feeling. It is intangible; a poignant and haunting feeling that reaches places in you that you can’t grasp or touch. It is as if some sleeping self wakes for a moment and expresses a note of wonder at something. It is that note of wonder that does it. Suddenly you become aware that you are more than what you thought you were. You feel a certain sweet inwardness, suddenly sense that the house has more rooms in it than you thought. That is what poetry does. That is what beauty does.

You write poetry, essays, short stories, novels . . . How do you choose how you will tell your stories?

Before a novel is born in the mind of the writer, it isn’t a novel. Before a short story is conceived, it isn’t a short story. A poem is often an incomplete swell of feeling, or maybe even just a beat that latches on to a wandering theme. The point I am trying to make is that, before they become what they are, all these forms are an insubstantial swirl of a mood inside us. How often has the mood or an idea of a short story become a novel? Or the mood or idea of a novel become a short story? It is all in its original, pre-creative state. This becomes the germ of an idea, and depending on its inner potential for drawing all sorts of related elements in one consciousness, it will take a certain form. Which form this is depends on the inner magnetism of the idea itself. So I stress the idea of listening – you hear an idea, but what is it? The form of a thing doesn’t reveal itself in the import of its creation, or even in the nature of its unfolding. Sometimes things are grown way beyond their destiny and sometimes things are under-nurtured and abbreviated. So I think one of the most difficult things in a writer’s life is knowing what a thing ought to be.

To what extent do you feel A Time for Dreams is a manifesto?

I don’t think it is. A manifesto is too definite, too deliberate. I am working with suggestiveness, with hints and orientations. In a way it is a cubist text because I am wandering round the different facets of this big subject – what it means to be where we are now, and how we are going to leap from this place to our new place with full consciousness and intelligence. It is more like a preparation for this new foundation – like cleaning our eyes so we can see clearly; like limbering up or toning the mind in preparation for the courage I feel we will need for these new times. We are at some kind of crossroads, and many, many of the old dreams are exhausted or are proving, one by one, to be moribund and severely limited in what they can give us. And we can’t go on carrying those old dreams.

Granta: Three Questions for Nicole Krauss

Nicole Krauss is the multi-award-winning author of three novels, including the bestseller The History of Love, and was chosen as one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists in 2007. Her new novel, Great House, was published this month. The plot centres on an imposing 19-drawer desk, once owned by a Chilean poet who died under Pinochet’s regime. It has one locked drawer. The story is narrated first by a reclusive New York writer, then by a widower in Jersualem and finally by another widower in London as he tries to understand a secret his wife kept from him for five decades. Saskia Vogel caught up with Nicole to ask her three questions about the book.

SV: In the first part of Great House the narrator asks two questions: ‘Do you think books change people’s lives?’, and the more cynical, ‘Do you think anything you write could mean anything to anyone?’ They are very different questions, but both make me wonder how you feel about the author as a public figure.

NK: Are they such different questions? I see them as different phrasings of the same question, or the same question asked in different moods. I know both of those moods well, and the many shades in between, too. I don’t think a writer can get away without wondering about the impact of literature, or questioning the worth of what she does. Obviously it’s easy to make an argument for the importance of literature in general, but almost impossible to sustain any conviction about the specific value of one’s own work. And that’s where the problem begins, or one of the problems.

Your style of storytelling has been described as ‘kaleidoscopic’. Do you feel this is accurate? What attracts you to telling a story with so many strands?

Yes, I think it’s fair to say that I’m very interested in patterns – within a single life, and between many lives – and equally interested in where those patterns break or become ambiguous. I think this attraction is connected to some innate fascination with structure, specifically to forms where disparate parts are drawn together to form an unexpected whole. I find it incredibly pleasing to make things in this fashion. Why that should be is a more complicated question. I’ve been thinking about metaphors recently. Why do we love metaphors? Because, when we link or juxtapose two seemingly unrelated things to reveal a commonality that feels at once surprising and inevitable, it confirms in us a sense of the unity and connectedness of all things. It’s a very joyful feeling, and one supported in art far better than in life. I suppose one could say that I like to create metaphors on the narrative or structural level by discovering the bridges, patterns, and allusions between stories that at first seem remote from one another. And one could also say that, having discovered them, I have a paradoxical urge to resist those same patterns, to break and deny them. For as much as I am invested in the consolation of meaning, I’m also very much aware that ours is an uncertain life, and I’m moved by the struggle of what it is to live in doubt, or with the unknown.

Both The History of Love and Great House carry a sense of the impossibility of ownership and the inevitability of loss. How did you become interested in these themes?

I wouldn’t describe my themes exactly in that way, but that doesn’t mean much; the writer isn’t the only authority on her themes. But if you’re asking about the subject of loss, I’d say that I’m interested in how people respond to tremendous loss, and specifically a response that involves a form of reinvention. Take Samson Greene, the protagonist of Man Walks Into a Room, who loses twenty-four years of his memory and has to reinvent a coherent self out of what remains. Or Leo Gursky in The History of Love, who responds to his loss by altering his reality; for whom memory is a creative act; who draws vitality from his irrepressible imagination. Or the story that the title Great House is taken from – to my mind one of the most beautiful stories in Jewish History – about how the Jews, under the guidance of Yochanan ben Zakkai, reimagined themselves after the loss of the Second Temple and Jerusalem, a radical reinvention that allowed them to survive in the Diaspora.

Reposted from Granta.com