Anupama Raju’s C: A Novel explores the life of a writer and his association with cities

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Anupama, a Kerala-based literary journalist, translator and communications professional, talks to TNM about the inspiration for ‘C’, which is her debut novel, her writing process and more.

Prose and poetry blend seamlessly in Anupama Raju’s latest novel as its protagonist traverses between the Sunless City and the Bright City she calls home. Published by Aleph Book Company, the book was released by MP Shashi Tharoor in Thiruvananthapuram on July 23. From spending every waking moment reliving the memories of a distant lover to his fascination with an ethereal woman from another time, the protagonist is an unnamed writer on a sabbatical who travels between two cities. The book opens a window on her life and her journey through the winding streets of the cities to which she is enslaved.

Whereas VS protagonist allows insight into her life as she attempts to find the storyteller within herself, she also takes readers through a roller coaster ride filled with memories of love, loss and pain from her past.

Anupama, novelist, literary journalist, translator and communication professional based in Kerala and author of New, a collection of poems, speaks to TNM about the inspiration for VS, which is her first novel, her writing process and more.

Could you walk us through the journey of writing the novel – from ideation to book launch.

VS is a book that has evolved considerably over time. The plot, characters, and narrative techniques involving poetry and prose took their time. I did not rush the process. From start to finish, it took me about four years to finish the book.

Why did you choose not to reveal the name of the protagonist, the city the protagonist is going to, or the city she is from? Even the title of the book doesn’t reveal much about the theme…

Cities do not derive their identity from names alone. The people who live there, their stories and histories, and the landscapes make up the cities. By leaving the two cities of the novel unnamed – the Sunless C and the Sunny C, I wanted to emphasize this quality. Similarly, I feel like the name of the protagonist is insignificant. She is simply the storyteller and I think having a name would have limited her characterization to a large extent. Title C is an attempt to capture the character of a city without confining it to a name – real or imagined.

C also becomes a narrator in the book. Using an external narrator to break the fourth wall is a technique often used in fiction. Why did you choose this for the novel?

The book moves forward in two voices: one, that of the protagonist and the other that of the city without the sun, C, where every moment of her awakening is imbued with the memories of a distant lover and where she meets someone another time. Each time C picks up the narrative, it’s almost as if readers are watching the central character, actions, and plot developments. I wanted C to be one with the reader, one with the audience watching the scene unfold. It is the empathetic, compassionate and omniscient voice; she is one of the storytellers who reminds us that cities should not be taken for granted.

Readers get a glimpse of the ups and downs experienced by the protagonist while battling depression. Did you have to research writers with depression or mental health issues?

Discussions and concernsMental health discussions have always been relevant. It’s just that the pandemic may have forced us to take a closer look at the vulnerabilities of the human mind. I have always supported the calming effect of literature and literary artifacts on mental afflictions. Some of the writers I admire – from Sylvia Plath to Virginia Woolf to TS Eliot – are all known to suffer from certain mental health issues. Not only did they write about these issues, but their writings have also influenced and comforted generations of writers, including me. At the same time, I would like to point out that depression and other mental disorders are not exclusive to writers. These are real and ordinary conditions experienced by many people around the world. Thus, in the case of VS, I attempted to depict the banality of the protagonist’s ups and downs, and also how she overcomes them through her words.

We don’t read what the protagonist writes about C. Can we expect a sequel?

I didn’t want to write an overtly conclusive ending. I would like readers to come to their own conclusions. For the moment, I have no intention of writing a sequel. But yeah, that sounds like an interesting proposition.

Cities are just as important, if not more so, than the protagonist in the world in which the novel takes place. How have different cities shaped the writer in you?

Travel is almost at the center of my being as a writer. Cities, as seen in books like Italo Calvino Invisible cities, have a way of absorbing you into their fabric, leaving you with memories, desires, aspirations; whet your appetite for new experiences and meeting new people. Every new place I visit comes back to me in some way through words. VS encourages readers to travel and visit cities too. As the epilogue in C, “For the reader, for the traveler” a poem, says:

“…It’s the same dirt, the same dust
on every land.
Same wonder and doubt
on every face wherever you go.
Although the skin can change
with the change of season,
polish yours until it shines.
Let them see your country in you.
And even if you leave one day
you bring some of their
dirt, dust and back skin.
You come back,
half here, half there
you live until you leave,
half here, half there.

What are your upcoming projects ?

My next book is most likely a second collection of poems. I also started working on a new novel. I also have some Malayalam to English translation projects of short fiction and poetry.

You can buy the book here

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