Never trust a writer who smiles | Laxmi Hariharan

Never trust a writer who smiles

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Never trust a writer who smiles

One of the sessions I attended at the London Book Fair featured Mexican author Valeria Luiselli. She spoke about here new book Story of My Teeth

In this the protagonist Gustavo ‘Highway’ Sanchez is a man with a mission: he is planning to replace every last one of his unsightly teeth. He has a few skills that might help him on his way: he can imitate Janis Joplin after two rums, he can interpret Chinese fortune cookies, he can stand an egg upright on a table, and he can float on his back. And, of course, he is the world’s best auction caller – although other people might not realise this, because he is, by nature, very discreet. Studying auctioneering under Grandmaster Oklahoma and the famous country singer Leroy Van Dyke. 
Highway travels the world, amassing his collection of ‘Collectibles’ and perfecting his own specialty: the allegoric auction. In his quest for a perfect set of pearly whites, he finds unusual ways to raise the funds, culminating in the sale of the jewels of his collection: the teeth of the ‘notorious infamous’ – Plato, Petrarch, Chesterton, Virginia Woolf et al.  I was hooked. What a cool and very different story. 

I also came away with some very interesting one-liners: “How the teeth are a window to the soul.”
“How one should not trust a writer who smiles.” And that was only the beginning.

I was also fortunate to hear from the electrifying Carmen Boullousa, a leading Mexican poet, novelist and playwright. Carmen writes about feminism and gender roles within a Latin American context. 
She spoke and the audience listened, enthralled.  Her passion for life—for living shone through. She talked about her love for cooking, and how for a long time she denied herself that pleasure, for she associated cooking with female subservience. 

Coming from a traditional Indian family where my mum spent the better part of my teenage years in the kitchen, whipping up freshly cooked breakfasts, lunches and dinners for her family… I totally got it.  And then she delivered this stunning one liner: “If I talk about my current project it just gets putrid.” That’s my most basic fear right there.


Listening to these authors was like being afforded a peek into their soul, a teensy-weensy view of what inspires them, what they obsess about; about why they write on the themes they do. I am hungry for more. I want to know what they are thinking, how they feel, how they react to situations. About life and death, loving and hating, about lost loves, our fears, our secret obsessions. Just the many emotions we face on a daily basis and which we reflect in our books… Know what I mean?

It’s why I write – to understand myself better. To find out more about my connection with the universe, to unravel the mysteries of time and space and why people do the things they do.

I acknowledge the importance of and indeed pursue my mastery of the every-changing Amazon algorithm for it is important to sales of my book. But I’d also rather spend a lot more of my time obsessing about the algorithm of life.
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