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Reading ‘City of Devi’ in Mogadishu

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The book: City of Devi, Manil Suri

The place: Mogadishu

I’ve found it hard to settle to a book the last few weeks; I read Stephen King’s latest, Revival, which I liked but didn’t love; I read Damon Galgut’s The Good Doctor, which is beautifully written but which felt oddly arid to me – and now I am reading this, which I am thoroughly enjoying but I find it quite easy to put it down and forget to pick it up again. Perhaps I have lost the ability to read? Or perhaps I can only become fully immersed in genre books these days? Say it ain’t so! I have 416 unread books on my Kindle, and many, many more unread books in my actual home in Glasgow, where I should be next week, and one of them is going to have to pique my interest and get my juices flowing.

(I am being rather unfair to City of Devi, which really is rather brilliant: apocalyptic speculative fiction set in Mumbai, featuring gods and elephants and pyrotechnics and a love triangle, and it is also, often, very funny. Shameful confession: I actually bought this because it won the Bad Sex In Literature award last year, though I haven’t actually reached the climactic scene (hur hur) yet. I do tend to think that award is quite mean-spirited – it is hard to write sex, and I feel like readers’ responses are likely to vary more in that area than in relation to almost anything else. Anything actively rapey or misogynist, by all means lampoon or lambast it. But otherwise, I’m down with bad sex in literature.)

(And also, City of Devi is an interesting case of literature-not-genre, no? It is basically science fiction, set in an alternate present (or near-future, I’m not quite sure), but it didn’t actually occur to me that it could fit the definition of genre fiction until I was writing the paragraph above. Why is this? Is it purely a factor of marketing, or is there something else to it? I have the rather confused idea that genre-vs-not-genre is linked to reader motivation, but on reflection that is a rather odd way of categorising writing.)

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Last night in Mogadishu for a while. In celebration / commemoration, I wanted to post my favourite poster up around the city, but like an idiot I lost my photo of it so here’s my second-favourite: nabad & nolol! Nabad = peace, and I’m pretty sure nolol doesn’t mean no lols … yeah OK, Google Translate tells me that “nolol” means “life”. Really wish I could get out of the car for a closer look but it’s out of the question. Really wish also I could make contact with Somali artists currently working in Mogadishu – one of my favourite things here (as I’ve mentioned before) is the pictures you see on the outside of shops to advertise their wares, and I would love to get some pictures commissioned by shop artists to have in my kitchen at home.

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Written by Jess

November 26, 2014 at 6:50 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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