ELLE Book Club

Name to know: Kanishk Tharoor

The debut author's short stories have Amitav Ghosh's approval

There's a fair bit of travel involved in Kanishk Tharoor’s debut collection of short fiction, Swimmer Among The Stars: Stories, fuelled by the writer's “far-reaching interests in social and cultural history”. From tracing an elephant's journey across Morocco to imagining the epilogue to climate change, Tharoor traverses time and space in these brightly original stories. And he's found fast approval; in an early review of the book, Amitav Ghosh calls Tharoor an extraordinary talent with “a probing mind”. Now, the New York-based author (and son of politician Shashi Tharoor) is dividing time between a novel set in the 15th century and a BBC radio series on antiquities destroyed in the Middle East. Here's a closer look at Swimmer Among The Stars:

The mood:
“I’ve always loved folklore and there’s a flavor of that older, not-quite-contemporary style in the way I write. My stories draw from folklore’s mercurial humour, the forthright tone of narration and the somewhat cavalier treatment of psychology and the self. I hope readers find that mood of inventiveness and playfulness across the collection.” 

The places:
“The collection covers a lot of ground: the journey of an Indian elephant to Morocco, the vanishing of a language, the conversations in a tea shop before a city is leveled by the Mongols, an icebreaker stuck in the Antarctic, and so on. I’m also interested in the future – or futures – that awaits us so some of my stories are about climate change and the collapse of global institutions (in one story, for instance, the United Nations can no longer operate on the earth and must seek refuge in near earth orbit)."

The characters:
“The title story of the collection is about language extinction, and focuses on a woman who is thought to be the last speaker of a language. I enjoyed conjuring her and playing with the expectations one might have of an elderly woman living in a remote part of the world. Elsewhere in the collection, I have a long series of vignettes based on medieval legends about Alexander the Great, from texts like the Iskandarnamah by the Persian poet Nizami and the Aina-E-Sikandari by the Delhi poet Amir Khusrau. I hope I’ve managed to breathe a different kind of life into the ‘heroic’ world conqueror.”

Swimmer Among The Stars: Stories (Aleph Book Company) is out this month