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Babble Book Club: People Park by Pasha Malla

Kaitlin McNabb
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Joined: Oct 19 2011

Next reading selection will be Pasha Malla's People Park, an apocalyptic and dizzying multiple narrative tale about isolation and displacement set in an unnamed island city.

We will wrap up this selection Tuesday January 15 8:30 p.m. EST/5:30 p.m. PST on this thread where we can all discuss the book in its entirety with each other. Since this is an online book club, we also have the benefit of this open thread for those who prefer or enjoy discussing the book while they read it. This also proves an advantage for those who read at different speeds and would like to make contributions before forgetting those comments or moving onto another selection.

People Park is a doozy of a read in both length and structure, but we will feel like we accomplished something at the end of it I'm sure! The book is widely available in Canadian libraries, bookstores, online and through the publisher, House of Anansi. 

This looks like a great read from an up and coming Canadian writer and will be a great holiday read to dive into and get lost in.

Happy reading to all and I'm excited to see what we all have to say!

 


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Kaitlin McNabb
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Joined: Oct 19 2011

The lovely people at House of Anansi have sent over this link to an interview that Pasha Malla has with Shelagh Rogers on CBC The Next Chapter. As many have said, there is a lot going on in this book, and it might be helpful as well as interesting to take a listen.

Warning: I have not yet listened to it (it's an hour long!) so I'm not sure if there are any spoilers -- will report back when I grab a moment.


MegB
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Joined: Nov 28 2001

Huzzah! It's in my local library, got it on hold.  Looks like a great choice - thanks Kaitlin!


Kaitlin McNabb
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Joined: Oct 19 2011

Yay @Rebecca West!

Also I have just been informed that for the above posted interview the part with Pasha Malla begins at the 25:00min mark. 


Catchfire
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Joined: Apr 16 2003

I am halfway through this book. It's funny. Great selection, Kaitlin!


Kaitlin McNabb
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Joined: Oct 19 2011

Great!

And exciting news: author Pasha Malla will be joining BBC in this thread on Tuesday January 15 8:30 p.m EST/5:30 p.m PST to discuss People Park. Preeeeety sweet.


Kaitlin McNabb
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Joined: Oct 19 2011

Just cracked the cover.

The design of this whole book is beautiful and outstanding. I especially love the reflective or "see-through" pages of the days of the week, quotes and first page. The font is also really spectacluar. The graphic design and all the additional elements really complements the vivid writing as well -- creates a space for all those imagined thoughts!

I really enjoy House of Anansi's full conception of the novel and the completeness of all elements. They produced beautiful books of writing and imagery. 


Catchfire
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Joined: Apr 16 2003

I just finished the last page. Anyone else made a dent in the novel yet?


Kaitlin McNabb
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Joined: Oct 19 2011

Definitely not on the last page, but so far I am really liking all the crossing of story lines. The characters are really interesting and really well drawn so far! It's a veritable who's who of the novel.

I have a feeling this will confuse me a bit later, but that is okay.


Catchfire
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Joined: Apr 16 2003

There are definitely a lot of characters and storylines -- a style ususally classified as "ambitious" by reviewers and publishng houses. When it comes off, like in Zadie Smith's White Teeth, among others, it's spectacular. When it doesn't, well, it can just be confusing.

Early in the book I appreciated the themes of gentrification, protest and the caricature of the men's rights (sic) movement in the New Fraternal League of Men. Debbie is a pretty great character, as is Pearl. Mostly what I liked is the hilariousness of it.

I agree that the book is beautifully designed. Great font, lovely concept, etc. Anansi sure is great, eh?


Left Turn
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Joined: Mar 28 2005

I'm currently on page 62. So far it's just a series of short stories connected only in that they happen in the same imaginary city on the same day. It reamins to be seen if the book returns to any of these characters later on.


MegB
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Joined: Nov 28 2001
Pasha Malla must be the love child of Richard Brautigan and Andrea Dworkin. The change from third person narrative to first in the last paragraph says it all.

Caissa
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Joined: Jun 14 2006

Finished it before New Year. Mildly entertaining. I presume it was meant to be allegorical or magical realism.


Kaitlin McNabb
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Joined: Oct 19 2011

I was thinking he was a love child of Paul Thomas Ansderson and someone... I don't know who yet at this point in reading.

Why Dworkin? I'm intrigued!


Catchfire
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I had to google Richard Brautigan, and I'd also like to hear more about why Dworkin came to mind. I see the PTA and magical realism thoughts -- he says in the Shelagh Rogers interview (I think -- maybe in a review somewhere) that it's not meant to be allegorical, but just interpretive. I'm not sure it works either way, although he also said that Raven is based on Woland in Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, one of my alltime favourite books. Raven has good points (although I like his understudy Gip much more: "I have only removed the fog of obscurity to reveal the truth. I have only illustrated what you have always known to be true." Said of a picked lock. Heh.) But Raven seems to peter out towards the end.


MegB
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Joined: Nov 28 2001

I guess it's the anarchist/nihilist in the Hand that makes me thing of Dworkin.  Also, Kathy Acker's Empire of the Senseless is a floor show for alienation.

What I'm saying is that I haven't seen this kind of writing for a long time.

ETA Read Brautigan's In Watermelon Sugar. 


Kaitlin McNabb
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Joined: Oct 19 2011

How much do you think he hates porn on a scale of one to Dworkin.

I agree. I haven't read exploratory/interpretive/allegorical writing style in awhile, or sorry, one that I could get through and enjoy. I'm enjoying the suspended nature of the narratives and the mental focus and recall it is taking to piece together moments and situations. It gives a depth that isn't always available in more linear styles.

The crossover of points and references reminds me of Beggars Garden and how he used not only people but object to connect and reappear in different stories. It appeals the the "trivia maniac" in my head.

I haven't finished yet, but I am enjoying the read for what it is, and that it is making me "work" at reading. By no means is it an easy read, but that definitely doesn't make it any less satisfying. I'm looking forward to combing through the interviews and reviews after I'm done reading to see what I missed in my infinite denseness and what more can be gained in retrospect.


Kaitlin McNabb
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Joined: Oct 19 2011

Still plugging along in the novel, and have a question to all those out there and then potentially for the author:

Do you think that 'cider' and the presence of 'cider' has significance? I have not finished the book yet, as stated above, but I find it has the drink of choice kind of off, in the sense that it could be meaningful.

This feeling stems from the fact I had a prof state that she believed the presence of 'pie' in On the Road symbolized kerouac's view of the commodification of America, but also a harkening back to the old days of America for the author. Because he always feels a constant need to eat, and is always wanting or eating by, it informs this relationship that he has with his country. The prof explained it better, and if I wasn't so comfy on my couch right now, I would look up my notes on the thought.

Anyways, I'm wondering if cider appears in a symbolic measure... hmm...


Catchfire
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Joined: Apr 16 2003

Interesting question -- by interpretation of the cider motif was that it a) added to the "unique" character of the island world and its ours-but-otherworldliness (no beer here, like), along with the weird people names and idiomatic cursing and b) contributed to the gentrification theme since cider is (kinda, in the NA context) fancier than beer -- dovetailing with the "flat" sandwiches and public transit system.

Kaitlin McNabb wrote:
I am enjoying the read for what it is, and that it is making me "work" at reading.

I have only removed the fog of obscurity to reveal the truth. I have only illustrated what you have always known to be true.


Kaitlin McNabb
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Joined: Oct 19 2011

You must be the ultimate teaching crush of all the teaching crushes.

 

But yes! The "idiomatic cursing", as you so eloquently state, was a flag as well -- Pops and his scene with the men stealing his trailer. How odd.

I'm not finished the book yet, so I don't want to make any grand statements, but it does feel like these peculiarities on the island are meant as a way to force the reader out of layering their own experiences and thoughts about the island on top of what the author wants the story to be. By that I mean, these moments of, wait for it, disconnect, serve to jerk the reader back to a state where the island is foreign -- it is kind of like your city, but it is not your city.

And good thought on the gentrification. I think I never considered cider to be fancier than beer, but I suppose you make a good case that they fancy island people would only drink cider and others forced to have beer. I only drink fancy beer now, so I just don't know (that comment was made at my own expense because I am a beer snob). 

 


Left Turn
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Joined: Mar 28 2005

I'm currently on page 161 -- it's getting really interesting. Thanks Kaitlin, for having us read this book.

The part about all the home demolitions to make way for People Park makes me think of the ongoing process of home demolitions in the West Bank to make way for illegal Israeli settlements.

Kaitlin McNabb wrote:
But yes! The "idiomatic cursing", as you so eloquently state, was a flag as well -- Pops and his scene with the men stealing his trailer. How odd.

Pops comment about putting his foot through the guy's head makes me think that if they were to make a movie version, Pops would ideally be played by the actor who played Red Forman on That 70's Show. Ya know, because Red repeatedly threatened to put his foot to Eric's ass.


Kaitlin McNabb
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Joined: Oct 19 2011

Ugh, Sam and Adine's childhood story as told by Sam broke my heart.


Kaitlin McNabb
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Joined: Oct 19 2011

Wow, ambitious, I think is the best word to sum up my experience in reading.

I don't know if I "got" everything -- themes, symbols, jokes -- but I have found that moments and characters are really lingering with me. I'm constantly wondering the fate of everyone, the point of it all, the purpose of what happened, both within the story and why the author wrote it.

Pop's language and the meaning behind it stays with me. It makes me laugh because of those people you know prnouncing the "big" words incorrectly, makes me feel pity, and then makes me wonder what was the purpose in writing this quirk?

Little Annie, what happened to her and her personality. Was she the product of a bit of parental neglect because of her brother? Why did she swim off towards the sign?

[some of these are just actual questions too! Feel free to answer!]

I've read others reviews and that they found the narrative so exploratory that it was confusing, which I totally agree with (at points), but I think I ultimately enjoyed the journey and exploration of the story and the writing.

Those are just some quick, inital thoughts...


Kaitlin McNabb
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Joined: Oct 19 2011

All right, conversation will begin very soon with Pasha Malla who is here, excited and ready to answer anything that comes his way! Feel free to ask and comment anything with respect to the author and others in the forum!


Catchfire
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Joined: Apr 16 2003

Actually, I wanted to ask Pasha about the "ambitious" label which showed up in reviews (and is usually applied to books of this genre): was he conscious of the label while writing PP? That is, did he know he was writing an "ambitious" novel? What did that feel like? How does he feel once the book is out there? Is it a compliment or what?

The other question I wanted to ask was also about Pop, Kaitlin. rabble.ca is obviously a left-wing site and many of our readers would have experiences similar to Pop, if not so...er...extreme. Speaking personally as an anti-poverty and anti-gentrification writer and activist, I've met a lot of people who aren't far off from him. And a lot of the scene staging is pretty relevant to the Vancouver context. I've read that PP was originally conceived as set in Montreal, but I wonder what Pasha might say to those who don't take Pop's cause as allegorical or illustrative (to borrow Raven's term), but immedate, specific and urgent?


Kaitlin McNabb
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Joined: Oct 19 2011

Hi everyone, thanks for coming out this evening and thank you to Pasha Malla for joining us this evening to talk about People Park.

Just to get the ball rolling, I'll lead off with a question and then please feel free to ask any of your own!

As we have been talking about in the group, this is an ambitious and complex novel, how did you come up with this elaborative and complex story idea that turned into a multi-narrative tale of 'People Park'?


Catchfire
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Joined: Apr 16 2003

Hi Pasha. Welcome to babble!


Pasha Malla
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Joined: Jan 9 2013

Hi.

First off, thanks to Kaitlin and the Rabble for inviting me to do this, and big ups to all of you who read my book, and apologies to those who tried and didn't make it through, or did make it through and quietly (or not so quietly) resented me the entire time -- if it's any consolation, my mum told me she wouldn't have made it past page ten if I hadn't written People Park, and she loves me.

On to the discussion!

Catchfire, hello. This "ambitious" label is something that gets slapped on novels by booksellers, marketing departments and publishers; it seems to be a euphemism for anything longer than 350 pages more than anything else. The most ambitious book published this year (that I read, anyway) was Tamara Faith Berger's Maidenhead, which is like 180 pages, has a single, first-person narrator, and deals with a fairly small period of time. Its ambition is in its thematic scope, its depth of insight, its evocation of character.

So this is to say, no, I wasn't think of writing an "ambitious" book in publishing industry terms, though I do think ambition is imperative to any writer (or artist, or astronaut, or professional cricket player, etc.) If one isn't writing ambitiously -- that is, challenging oneself, pushing one's talents and limits and looking to great books as models and inspiration -- then what's the point?

That said, if someone were to feel a sense of ambition reading my book, beyond the marketing-speak, I would be very happy. I put a lot of thought and work into this book, and I think it requires a commensurate amount of work from readers. We should all be a little ambitious in everything we do, though, right?


Kaitlin McNabb
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Joined: Oct 19 2011

Oh labels and booksellers. To me it seems ambitious because of the multiple stories and characters that overlap and the ability to mentally track them. I mentioned earlier in this conversation that I felt I had to work to read this novel, and read somewhere else that another person read this with a pad and paper.

 


Pasha Malla
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Joined: Jan 9 2013

This is in response to Kaitlin's question, and then I'll get back to Pop and protest movements.

The book began almost nine years ago in a completely different formulation, which I won't detail here (there's an interview with Shelagh Rogers, which Kaitlin linked, in which I talk about this stuff). But I took a kernel of that story, which was based on a real place (Montreal) and decided to situate it in a completely imagined universe. This was for a bunch of reasons; elucidating them all would take the rest of our time. 


Kaitlin McNabb
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Joined: Oct 19 2011

Ambition is needed to read this book for sure, did you ever wonder if it would alienate readers though or was that a concern? We read Murakami earlier on and discussed what seems to be his ability to put the reader aside and just write want he wants and then produce that to the public. Other writers, like Nabokov, seem to do that as well. Did you leave your audience out of this to write the story?


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