“Good writing must-have elements of intrigue and mystery to it“, says the author of Sylvia, Maithreyi Karnoor as we talk about her novel and she had so much to share.

A poem is the best way to align words. It gives words some meaning and makes them feel more alive and connected. In all the Netflix and Instagrams of the world, one thing that is both entertaining and peaceful is sparing some time and sitting down with a book and coffee. There is no greater pleasure than that. Reading a story or reciting poetry, the art of watching words turn into pictures is what makes the whole process beautiful. Maithreyi Karnoor, author of Sylvia turns her ideas and thoughts into poetry and this is one reason why the readers enjoy reading her work so much. Maithreyi decided to take her love for art and weave that into her debut novel, Sylvia giving us a unique reading experience.

She is a well-known author, poet and award-winning translator. Maithreyi Karnoor’s novel Sylvia kindled from one of the verses she wrote down in 2018. A story about multiple characters dealing with their innermost conflicts, the story is set in the background of rural India. Including poetry in her storyline was a rather organic move for Maithreyi instead of a strategic one. Her storyline follows two lives, one of Cajetan Pereira who is on a quest to trace his Goan roots and writer and journalist, Sylvia who meets him in the middle of her search for a story.

PC: Maithreyi Karnoor Twitter

Here’s what Maithreyi Karnoor had to share about the book:

If you had to give a glimpse of what your book Sylvia is about, how would you do it?

“Sylvia is a novel with drama, suspense, social satire, and adventure. It is about a young aspiring writer who meets her estranged uncle under a Baobab tree (he is himself known as ‘Bhaubaab’) through a strange coincidence. She evolves into a successful writer—albeit with mental health issues—as a peripheral character in the lives of other people with their aspirations as ‘modern’ Indians in a chaotic world full of snakes, demonic possession, construction of highways, and mythical stories being lived by real people.

You have experimented with your book by including poetry with prose. What was the intention behind choosing this style of writing?

“Including poetry with prose was an organic choice rather than a strategic one. Good writing must have elements of intrigue and mystery to it. These are things that make the reader think and wonder and engage deeply with the text. For that, an understatement is a good tool. Sometimes when I wanted to imply something rather than state it explicitly, I used poetry because as a form it has abstraction built into it. Poems function as ligaments – joining different parts of the narrative – rather than mere embellishments in my book.

The book talks about two stories where one is searching for a story and the other for a home. If you had to pick one of the two, which one would you pick and why?

“It is a rare novel that is driven equally by the plot and the narrative. Most lean one way or the other. In a plot-oriented novel, the series of incidents take precedence over their description. Mine, on the other hand, is a slow and lateral unraveling of the world my characters inhabit to create a holistic experience and draw the reader in. There are more than two stories in the book and each one is equally important in forming the canvas. I wouldn’t choose one over the other.”

What kind of books interest you?

“I prefer fiction and memoir over non-fiction. Dry facts bore me and there has to be a story to everything. Most of my understanding of the world – history, geography, society, cultures, politics – comes from reading good fiction. There must be a sincerity and simplicity to the words whose literary richness isn’t contrived. I love wordplay and humour. I seek music and magic in the prose. I exclusively read literary fiction for the longest time but I’m only just discovering fantasy, sci-fi and crime – writing that is relegated to the margins as ‘genre fiction’. I feel my horizons slowly expand with these. A well-written fantasy story can contain more philosophy and psychological depth than a realistic one that milks dry the melancholy of routine.”

PC: Maithreyi Karnoor Twitter

Who inspires you as an author?

The selection is random and eclectic as you can see that each of these writers have distinctly different styles and sensibilities. But I am fascinated by them and their works equally.

Rhys Hughes, Arundhati Roy, Amitav Ghosh, P.G. Wodehouse, J. M. Coetzee, Toni Morrison, Salman Rushdie,  Julian Barnes, Gabriel García Márquez to name a few. I love the poetry of Wislawa Szymborska (in translation of course). Arun Kolatkar and A. K. Ramanujan are among the Indian poets I admire the most, and Mustansir Dalvi is my favourite contemporary Indian poet.

Your translation of the Kannada novel – Halla Bantu Halla was shortlisted for the Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize. Can you talk about the whole experience?

“Shrinivas Vaidya is the author of Halla Bantu Halla. He won the Sahitya Akademi award for it. I translated it into English as A Handful of Sesame and that was shortlisted for the Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize, and won the Kuvempu Bhasha Bharati prize for translation. I’m honored and grateful for these recognitions. Such acknowledgments help authors and translators get taken seriously and (hopefully) find a greater readership.  Translating the novel was a wonderful experience. It was pure meditation. I felt drawn into the book very deeply and remained under its influence for many months as I worked with it. Translation has been my training wheels for fiction writing.

If you had to recommend five books, which ones would you suggest?

I’d love to recommend the following five:

  • The Truth Spinner by Rhys Hughes
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  • Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie
  • World of Psmith Omnibus by P. G. Wodehouse
  • Collected Poems of A. K. Ramanujan

We can’t wait to get our hands on the book!! Are you excited? Let us know below.

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