On Thursday, September 15, award-winning Indian novelist Karan Mahajan joined Colgate students and professors in Love Auditorium to discuss his critically-acclaimed book “The Association of Small Bombs.” Mahajan’s novel was published earlier this year and is long-listed for the National Best Book Award.
Associate Professor of English Jennifer Brice leads the Living Writers program at Colgate, which features conversations with writers from various genres. These Living Writers events are open not only to students but to the greater Colgate community, both online and in person. In his opening remarks, Mahajan praised the idea behind the Living Writers program.
“I think it’s a brilliant idea for a class – a way to simultaneously demystify literature and to bring students close to the roots of its power. I like that the students sift through secondary sources like reviews, interviews and essays to get a sense of the conversation developing around a book. They knew the larger context of the book almost as well as I did,” Mahajan said.
Mahajan had the opportunity to work closely with select students and answer their questions before addressing the larger Colgate community. The students are enrolled in Brice’s Living Writers course, and they had a week to read the visiting author’s work before joining the author for a dinner discussion.
“I was flattered to be read so closely, and genuinely curious to hear what the students had discovered about my work,” Mahajan said.
To begin the talk, Mahajan read the first chapter of “The Association of Small Bombs,” providing the audience with the opportunity to hear the story directly from his lips. Mahajan then discussed his writing process, and read aloud an essay in which he described the personal nature of the writing process. Brice later revealed that Mahajan had written that essay specifically for his Colgate audience.
“The Association of Small Bombs” is loosely based on a 1996 bombing in Delhi. Mahajan explores a variety of different perspectives in his fictionalized account of the terror attack, and gives voice to both the victims of the bombings and the terrorists themselves in his book.
Brice told the audience that she believes that the central topics of Mahajan’s novel are particularly relevant today.
“I love this novel, and I think it is a really important novel for right now, [after] just last weekend and the two small bombs,” Brice said, referring to the Saturday bombings in New York City and New Jersey.
Brice expressed gratitude for Mahajan’s presentation to the Colgate community.
“He was really fabulous. He was really generous with his time and thoughtful in his responses to the students’ questions about his work,” Brice said. “During the meeting he read from this essay; he wrote that essay for Colgate… he wrote that for us.”
Brice also spoke to the range of writers participating in the series. For the third installment of the series, Michael Ondaatje will visit Colgate. While Ondaatje has a long career and has published over 20 books, Mahajan is 32 years old and has only just published his second novel.
“One of the great things about the Living Writers
series is that we try very hard to strike a balance between bringing [in long-time] writers like Michael Ondaatje and people who are younger in their careers,” Brice said. “I think having someone come who is as close to [students’] age as Karan is inspiring.”
Sophomore Kim Ravold is participating in the Living Writers class, and gave her opinion of Mahajan’s book.
“It was a beautiful and haunting portrayal of trauma and how people deal with it,” Ravold said. “I thought it was really beautifully written.”
She also spoke to the benefit of Colgate’s Living Writers series.
“It is reassuring to see these many success stories. This whole series is really great, and I am so glad we have it at Colgate,” Ravold said.