Shumona Sinha  [ India, France ]


Guest 2016.

Shumona Sinha, born in Calcutta in 1973, grew up in a family of academics and literary enthusiasts. She began writing while still in her teens and was named Best Young Poet in Bengal in 1990. In 2001, she moved to Paris to study literature at the Sorbonne, and also worked part-time as an English teacher at secondary schools. In 2009, she began working as an interpreter in the Office for Refugees and Stateless Persons. However, following the publication of her prize-winning novel »Assommons les pauvres!« (2011; tr. Let’s beat up the poor!), she was fired from her position there.

Sinha’s characteristic autobiographical approach and style of writing – enraged and poetic at once – is already present in her debut novel »Fenêtre sur l’abîme« (2008; tr: Window on the abyss). In this story, which hinges on a Bengali student living in Paris who climbs the social ladder by marrying a famous professor and is subsequently faced with the monotony of bourgeois marriage, the author dissects the social codes of Western society and the cultural turmoil of a young immigrant woman. Her second novel »Let’s beat up the poor!«, the title of which is drawn from the eponymous prose poem by Charles Baudelaire, was an international sensation. The narrator is an interpreter working in a French administrative department for asylum seekers who, after beating a migrant in the Paris Metro with a wine bottle as he had been harassing her, must now justify her behavior to police officers. In her rage, the protagonist – who herself came to the country as an immigrant – exposes the inhuman asylum system as a »factory of lies«. She shows the extent to which domestic officials are conditioned to have a systematic mistrust of migrants, while the migrants themselves are put under pressure to make up increasingly extreme stories of violence and persecution in order to obtain strictly regulated residency permits. The »Süddeutsche Zeitung« called it »an exceptional novel, rich in imagery, aggressive, funny and highly intelligent, an antidote to otherwise preachy texts on migration, a highly political plea for approaching the issue of asylum differently«. The author, who has published several volumes of poetry in addition to her novels, devoted her most recent work of prose »Calcutta« (2014) to the political history of her home country. The protagonist, Trisha, returns to the city of her birth, Calcutta, where she examines several generations of her family so as to piece together the moving history of West Bengal since the colonial era.

Shumona Sinha is the recipient of several awards. »Assommons les pauvres!« was awarded the Prix Eugéne Dabit du roman populiste and the Prix Valery-Larbaud, and was also short-listed for the Prix Renaudot and the Prix Médicis in 2014. In 2016 she received the International Literature Prize of the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin. The author lives in Paris.

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