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The Wasted Vigil by Nadeem Aslam.
The message was short. 'I want to see you now. I want you to come to me, it doesn't matter how late it is, and tell me exactly what you want from me.'
Like the world around him, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, Adam Kellas's life is showing distinct signs of cracking apart. Against his better judgement, Kellas - divorced, unstable, spurned by his lover and by the world of letters - accepts a war assignment from his newspaper.
It is the beginning of a journey which takes him from the mountains of Afghanistan to the elegant dinner tables of north London, the marshlands of the American South and, ultimately, to the darkest realms of the human imagination. Only the memory of the beautiful, elusive Astrid, a fellow reporter in Afghanistan, offers him the possibility of hope.
With all the explosive drama of The People's Act of Love
, James Meek's new novel spans continents and cultures. It is a timeless tale of folly and the pursuit of love, set against the incendiary politics of our time.
The novel takes place in the recent past, set in London, the States and Afghanistan, where Kellas is reporting on the conflict with the Taliban, between 2001 and 2003. In Afghanistan, Kellas meets a fellow journalist, the inaccessible Astrid, and finds himself suddenly emotionally vulnerable in a way he hasn’t experienced before. As he struggles to understand the nature of the contact between his own western culture and that of Afghanistan, he is also forced to wrestle with what it means to try to connect with another human being in a clear-eyed way.
What is our exact position as readers / writers of the globalized and uniform world today? In what specific ways do we stand critically against the storm of “breaking news” that invades every afternoon our homes?
What it means for one to be for or against the US bombings when, as Meek puts it in his novel, he can earn a comfortable life, with a two storey house, a car, a wife, children and an occasional lover? What exactly it means to understand the alien, the other culture, the other nation’s problems etc.? The same as understanding your friend or your lover in your own country is Meek’s persuasive answer.
What it means to be a writer and write novels (risking their more or less popular acceptance) on these issues?
The artistry of Meek in We are now beginning our descent
consists in that he introduces in the same context two different narratives: the story of loving / hating yourself and that of loving /hating the other. His novel explains that this issue is a never ending story, a work in progress which has a dear cost: your life, other people’s life, Life in general.
The book has won the Prince Maurice prize
for the 2008 best literary love story
(judges were Simon Armitage, Joanne Harris, Marina Lewycka, David Nobbs, Sarah Waters, Irvine Welsh and Richard E. Grant). This is what Richard E. Grant said in his presentation speech:
«James Meek charts a post 9/11 route through the front lines of liberal London’s chattering warriors via the War in the Middle East in search of that elusive thing called 'love'. Compellingly authentic».
Read more: Meek on Meek (main topics of his book); selected passages of his novel concerning writing today as well as reviews of the book and a report by him from Afghanistan in the Guardian
Watch Meek interviewed here