A long, loving literary line

From The Guardian:

Kamila Shamsie always wanted to be a writer – just like the three generations of women before her. Now shortlisted for the Orange prize, she pays homage to their courage and their craft.

Kamila-Shamsie-right-with-001 In the dying days of the British Raj, over a family meal in Lucknow, a young Indian man, greatly influenced by communist and Marxist thought while at Oxford in the 1930s, launched forth with his political ideas. The subject at hand: Lenin and the Soviets. His mother, at the other end of the table, leaned forward. “If there's something wrong with the linen and serviettes,” she said, “let me know. I'll attend to it.” The young man was my maternal grandfather, and the story is the stuff of family legend. As a child I loved the humour of that tale – now I am startled by the picture it forms of my great-grandmother as a traditional figure of 1940s Indian womanhood, unable to step outside the domestic, even when faced with a communist dictator. You certainly wouldn't guess from that story, or necessarily from photographs of my great-grandmother (which show a tiny woman, her head covered with a dupatta), that she was a politician and the first of four generations of women writers in my family.

I grew up among my mother's remarkable collection of books – made more remarkable by how difficult it could be in the 1980s to get hold of Anglophone literature in Karachi. She was generally quite happy to let me work my way through her bookshelf, but every so often in my teenage years she would direct me towards particular writers – Salman Rushdie, Peter Carey, Anita Desai, Kazuo Ishiguro.

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