As the New Year beckons with the promise of a clean slate, it is vital to turn back the page and examine the literary offerings of 2015. During the course of the year, genres became increasingly diverse and offered a few pleasant surprises. Nevertheless, writers focused their efforts on a specific medium.
Several writers shifted their focus to fiction and the trend produced some fascinating results.
“Mustansar Hussain Tarar, who is well-known for his travelogues, released a collection of stories titled Pandra Kahaniyan,” M Hameed Shahid, a prominent critic, told The Express Tribune.
According to the critic, it has been a great year for fiction and many books by writers who have passed away were published. This, he said, serves as welcome proof that readers are interested in reading fiction.
“[This year], the focus has been to breathe life back into literary thoughts and writing,” he added.
Other authors were also drawn towards fiction and produced a captivating array of literary masterpieces. Shamsur Rehman Faruqi, another critic, also published a collection of stories.
“Mubashar Ali Zaidi’s 100 Lafzon Ki Kahani sold quite well [in 2015],” Sharmeen Hussain, Marketing Head at Liberty Books, told The Express Tribune.
The book contained material that was socially relevant and even people who never read Urdu fiction were drawn towards it.
“After the film Manto was screened across the country, the demand for the short story writer’s books also increased,” Hussain said.
Oxford University Press Managing Director Ameena Saiyid voiced similar views regarding books about the late writer, saying his short stories were commercial successes.
Osman Samiuddin’s The Unquiet Ones, Peter Oborne’s Wounded Tiger, Yaroslav Trofimov’s The Siege of Mecca and Simon Lister’s Fire in Babylon received a favourable response. In Urdu, Ahfazur Rehman’s book Sab Say Bari Jang, which is based on the struggle of journalists during 1971, was the toast of the year.
According to Saiyid, non-fiction also remained popular.
Neither a Hawk Nor a Dove by Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, Quotes from the Quaid by Shariful Mujahid and Liaquat Merchant, Power Failure by Abida Hussain, Pakistan: Beyond the Crisis by State by Maleeha Lodhi, Life of Muhammad by A. Guillaume and Jinnah of Pakistan by Stanley Wolpert sold particularly well this year.
Saiyid added books by Saman Shamsie and Hamida Khuhro attracted a wide readership.
“Our graphic novels or illustrated books on Pakistani role models were popular,” she said. “The Urdu Virsa series, which comprises selections from the works of best known Urdu poets, did quite well.”
The art of fiction
Professor Sahar Ansari, a prominent critic, told The Express Tribune most writers these days are trying to write in the same way as fiction is written.
“Anything [that] reads like fiction increases readability,” he added.
However, he said no extraordinary fiction novel was published in 2015. “Writers are not working hard in their respective fields,” he said, “They need to read international literature to broaden their vision.”
Omer Shahid Hamid, whose latest novel The Spinner’s Tale hit bookstores earlier this year, said he writes fiction but reads more non-fiction.
“Non-fiction should read like fiction,” he said. “I enjoyed reading books on sports this year. Even though most of books I read were non-fiction books, their greatest quality was that the writing followed a narrative style. This made me feel as though I was reading a novel.”
In 2015, a large number of poetry collections were published. These include Anwar Shaoor Ki Kuliyat and Sabir Zafar Ki Kuliyat.
However, Ansari believes no extraordinary anthology was produced by Urdu poets.
On the other hand, Hussain said there is a niche market for poetry and only specific readers look for collections of verse.
“In sharp contrast, young adult literature did very well this year,” he said. “The Hunger Games series sold quite well.”
Anoosha Lalani, whose debut novel, The Keepers, was published this year, said, “I love the way teenagers think. Everything is about the intensity of emotions and how characters struggle to rein it in [fascinates me].”
The writer works on the Karachi desk at The Express Tribune
Published in The Express Tribune, January 3rd, 2016.