‘Essential Tagore’ nominated best book of year

New Delhi : “The Essential Tagore”, a new anthology of Rabindranath Tagore’s translated literature and art works, has been nominated the “book of the year-2011” by eminent American philosopher, writer and critic Martha Nussbaum.

The book is a tribute to the Nobel laureate on his 150th birth anniversary. An ambitious collection, “The Essential Tagore” has been hailed by critics as the largest single volume of the poet’s work available in English.

It tries to represent the extraordinary achievements of Tagore in 10 literary genres: poetry, songs, autobiographical works, letters, travel writings, prose, novels, short stories, humorous pieces and plays.

In addition to the newest translations in modern idioms, a sampling of the poet’s works originally composed in English, translations of his own works, three poems omitted from the published version of the “Gitanjali” in English and an exclusive collection of art work have found their way into the book.

Nussbaum, who had earlier taught at Harvard University, in her recommendation in the New Statesman, said: “I propose as book of the year the splendid new anthology ‘The Essential Tagore (Harvard University Press, £29.95)’, edited by Fakrul Alam and Radha Chakravarty, which contains an unparalleled selection of poems, plays, stories, letters and more, mostly in excellent and up-to-date translations.”

Translations were contributed by writers and critics of international repute, including Amit Chaudhuri, Amitav Ghosh and Sunetra Gupta.

The South Asia edition of “The Essential Tagore” has been published by Visva-Bharati.

“I started work on the book in 2007 when I was in Dhaka. My co-editor, Fakrul Alam, and I thought about it together. We wanted to do something for Tagore for his birth anniversary,” Chakravarty told IANS.

Chakravarty has translated several of Tagore’s significant works into English, including “Gora”, “Chokher Bali”, “Farewell Song” and “The Land of Cards: Stories, Poems and Plays for Children”. Her book, “Tagore and the Modern Novel”, will be published in 2012. She has also published several collections of contemporary South Asian writing.

Alam of Dhaka University in Bangladesh is a widely published scholar, editor and translator.

Chakravarty said very little is available in a single volume of Tagore’s works.

“He worked across so many genres. We wanted to explore the full range of his literature in a way which was relevant to modern readers in the English idiom of the 21st century,” she said.

She said the early translations of Tagore’s work flattened out the cultural nuances. “But now we are so comfortable with retaining our cultural nuances. We have created an Indian English which attempts to bring India closer to non-Indian and even non-Bengali speaking readers,” she said.

She said “the team of 30 translators who worked for her anthology were allowed to retain their range of language and nuance”.

The book has been acclaimed by critics as a thoughtful and sensitive collection of Tagore’s works that frees itself from the standard stock of the poet’s translated literature to explore his amazing diversity in a rather contemporary manner.

Nobel laureate Amartya Sen in the New Republic described the book as a “fine selection of Tagore’s writings… with an imaginative and original foreword by the excellent writer Amit Chaudhuri”.

“This new anthology, edited by Fakrul Alam and Radha Chakravarty, is so welcome, because it starts the process of freeing Tagore for a contemporary audience. The first thing that strikes you about ‘The Essential Tagore’ is the diversity of its subject’s talents,” Booker prize winner Aravind Adiga of Bookforum wrote of the book.

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