The essayist and novelist, whose new novel is ''Run and Hide,'' still holds ''the unprovable conviction that only Chekhov somehow managed to describe life, as it really is.''

.- What books are on your night stand?

I am learning Spanish, so the bedside pile consists almost entirely of books I previously enjoyed in English translation and now wish to read, absurdly ambitiously, in the original:

Poems by Borges and Alejandra Pizarnik, and novels by Antonio Munoz Molina, Rafael Chirbes and Almudena Grandes. I am actually making some progress with the graphic novel version of Ian Gibson's biography of Federico Barcia Lorcia.

I also have Eliot Weinberger's ''Angels & Saints'' and the recently translated novel '' The Last and the First '' by Nina Berberova.

.- What's the last great book you read?

''July's People,'' by Nadia Gordimer. It imagines with coruscating insight, middle class white liberals at the mercy of their Black servant during an insurrection against a white supremacist regime.

.- What subjects do you wish more authors would write about?

I feel a massive gap has opened up in our imagination about life in the remote provinces and rural regions - coincidently, also the places that have become politically consequential.

I recently finished reading ''The Gray Notebook,'' by Joseph Pla, translated from the Catalan by Peter Bush. It is a hypnotic record of the author's life in the Catalan provinces and Barcelona in the first half of the 20th century, and I found myself wishing this very long book to go on forever.

.- Are there any classic novels that you only recently read for the first time?

Yes, during the lockdown, I read some of the novels of Emile Zola in the Rougon-Macquart cycle in the new translations published by Oxford University Press.

I had assumed, ignorantly, that I didn't have to read him, such was Zola's reputation as an artist inferior to Flaubert and Maupassant. I was enthralled by his vividly realized settings - from Parisian department stores to railway towns - and gaudy characters.

I was particularly surprised by his fiction's intense awareness of the brutal - and, it now seems, politically fateful - French imperial ventures in North Africa.

.- What's the best book you've ever received as a gift?

The selection of Chekhov's stories in a hardback printed in the former Soviet Union, I was overwhelmed by them.

I hadn't really known what to expect - I was 18 years old then - but after decades of reading fiction. I have not lost the unprovable conviction that only Chekov somehow managed to describe life, as it really is, uncompromised by the artifices of literary creation.

.- What do you plan to read next?

Shruti Kapla's ''Violent Fraternity'' : Indian Political Thought in the Global Age.'' I have read some previously published material in it - enough to know that the book embodies the fresh and bold scholarship that is redrawing the intellectual map of the world.

.- What's the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?

Amitav Ghosh's ''The Nutmeg's Curse'' is an illuminating book by any measure on the historical roots of the climate emergency today.

I was particularly struck by its account of the critique of indigenous peoples of settler-colonialism.

.- What book should nobody read until the age of 40?

I often wonder, when I recall them, about the extremely partial way in which I first read books such as ''Anna Karenina'' - or, indeed, if I read them at all. The products of much inner conflict, and emotional and spiritual maturity, they demand, constantly, a deeper engagement than I was capable of in my 20s and 30s.

Certainly, Flaubert's ''Sentimental Education,'' the classic novel of romantic and political disillusion that I first read or failed to read in my teens, begins to make sense only as you cross over into middle age.


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