22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Shumona Sinha

Portrait Shumona Sinha
© Hartwig Klappert

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 (OFPRA), but was fired following the publication of her prize-winning novel »Assommons les pauvres!« (2011; tr. Let’s beat up the poor!).

Sinha’s characteristic autobiographical approach and style of writing – enraged and poetic at once – is already apparent in »Fenêtre sur l’abîme« (2008; tr. Window on the abyss), the story of a Bengali student living in Paris, who climbs the social ladder by marrying a famous professor and subsequently finds herself marooned in the monotony of bourgeois marriage. Her second novel »Let’s beat up the poor!«, its title drawn from the eponymous prose poem by Charles Baudelaire, was an international sensation. The protagonist is an interpreter working in a French administrative department for asylum seekers who, after beating a migrant with a wine bottle, 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. 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«. In »Calcutta« (2014) the protagonist, Trisha, returns to the city of her birth, where she examines several generations of her family so as to piece together the turbulent history of West Bengal since the colonial era. Her most recent novel »Apatride« (2017; tr. Stateless) is about two Bengali women, one of whom moves to Paris, the city of her dreams, while the other, raised in poverty, becomes embroiled in a peasants’ uprising. Over time, both women are increasingly filled with sadness and anger in the face increasing violence and lack of freedom.

Shumona Sinha, who has also published several volumes of poetry in Bengali, was awarded the Prix Eugène Dabit du roman populiste and the Prix Valery-Larbaud for »Assommons les pauvres!«, which was also short-listed for the Prix Renaudot and the Prix Médicis in 2014. It also received the International Literature Prize of the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin in 2016, the same year she was a writer in residence at the Literaturhaus Zürich. The author lives in Paris.