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Jeet Thayil: ‘The last book that made me laugh? A book of poems by Narendra Modi’

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The poet and novelist on the literary merits of the Indian Prime Minister and changing his opinion of TS Eliot

The book I am currently reading
Edna O’Brien’s Girl, which serves as a corrective to the creative writing rule “Write what you know”. There is no risk or honour in writing only what you know. What a banal world it would be if writers did not use their imaginations.

The book that changed me
Books have changed my life more than once, but it may be the earliest collisions that persist. If I had to name one novel I’d say The Brothers Karamazov, which I read in my early teens. The Russian novel is uniquely suited to India: the feudalism, the insanity disguised as religious fervour, the regard for the written word, the scattershot passion and hysteria. I admired the drunkenness of the prose, the digressions and exaltation, the way Dostoevsky wrote as if each page would be his last.

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