What is the most popular children’s show on YouTube? ChuChu. It is produced in India, and while Disney is known for taking foreign stories and myths and dropping them into “family-friendly American formats … ChuChu’s videos are a different kind of hybrid: The company ingests Anglo-American nursery rhymes and holidays, and produces new versions with subcontinental flair. The characters’ most prominent animal friend is a unicorn-elephant. Nursery rhymes become music videos, complete with Indian dances and iconography. Kids of all skin tones and hair types speak with an Indian accent.” And kids love it. Why? Alexis C. Madrigal travels to Chennai to find out.

P.G. Wodehouse to get a memorial in Westminster Abbey: “The plans, which the abbey said were at a very early stage, will see Wodehouse honoured with a stone. No decision has yet been made on the exact location of the memorial, said a spokesperson for the abbey. More than 100 poets and writers are buried or have memorials in the abbey’s Poets’ Corner, from Jane Austen to C.S. Lewis.”

Jennifer Reeser reviews Timothy Murphy’s Devotions: “Not a knee is padded in Timothy Murphy’s new collection. This is no minor point, considering that knee remains for the length of the volume perpetually bent and on the floor. Like the poet himself, these ­poems—religious verses selected from the whole course of a career—are pure, lean sinew. Who but Murphy could accomplish such hard contact with the earth, yet be so undeniably not of it?”

Read The Master and Margarita, Viv Groskop writes: “If many Russian classics are dark and deep and full of the horrors of the blackness of the human soul (or, indeed, are about the Gulag), then this is the one book to buck the trend. Of all the Russian classics, The Master and Margarita is undoubtedly the most cheering. It’s funny, it’s profound and it has to be read to be believed.” It’s also wise.

Samantha Shokin writes about the seven-string Russian guitar and how the foremost expert on the instrument keeps it alive … in Iowa: “There are but a handful of Russian musical exports familiar to the average American … Worldly musicians might be able to tell you the difference between a piano accordion and its chromatic-buttoned cousin, the Russian bayan. But when it comes to one of the most storied instruments in Russian culture, the seven-stringed guitar, or semistrunka (seven-stringer), few but the most passionate and well-versed music nerds and Russophiles are even aware of its existence…Despite this legacy, the seven-string’s popularity declined and eventually all but disappeared. In Russia today, it is a relic of a time long past; its secrets guarded by a shrinking community of dedicated practitioners. In fact, the seven-string is so estranged from modern Russia that the world’s only seven-string guitar festival is not in Russia at all. The International Annual Russian Guitar Festival and Seminar (IARGUS) has been held for the past 12 years in Iowa City, Iowa, the home of Oleg Timofeyev, who is the world’s foremost expert on the Russian guitar.”

Essay of the Day:

My Struggle is finished. What’s next for Karl Ove Knausgaard? Ordinary fiction in “miniature” that is, at best, Ruth Franklin writes in the Atlantic, “mildly entertaining”:

“Knausgaard is as preoccupied as ever with capturing the essence of life before it vanishes. Gone, however, is the ‘frustrated father of small children who strips himself naked for the reader,’ as he described himself in Book Six. Signs are, in Autumn and Winter, that he has been spooked: This is writing that will not hurt anyone, addressed to an intimate, innocent ‘you,’ a baby, by an ‘I’ eager to take in the world rather than expose the self.

“With the completion of My Struggle four years behind him, he and Linda (who will soon write two books of her own) have moved from their cluttered apartment in Malmö to what seems to be a very comfortable house outside the city. They are about to have a fourth child, to whom Knausgaard writes a series of letters, filled with aperçu-laden observations of the world. Some of the brief meditations on the stuff of everyday life—teeth, otters, ice cubes—are charming; some are breathtakingly banal. Knausgaard the maximalist is fascinating, enraging, consuming; Knausgaard in miniature is, at best, mildly entertaining. So it’s almost a relief when, in Spring, he returns to fraught domestic terrain. He chronicles a visit with the baby, now three months old, to Linda in the hospital, where she has been on and off ever since suffering another major depression during the pregnancy and taking too many sleeping pills (whether this was an accident or a suicide attempt is unclear).

“Yet to compare his treatment of Linda’s travails—her breakdown as his work on Book Six was nearing an end and now this difficult period—is to be struck by a radical change in the narration. The Knausgaard who in My Struggle aired his version of the tensions between them, and who in its final volume wrote as a guilty ‘I’ aware of the harm he may have caused an intimate ‘we’ in doing that, has pulled back. What his role, if any, might be in her recent trouble is never broached. (Could his resumption of writing have had something to do with it?) Instead, in a plaintive epilogue, the ‘you’ whom Knausgaard is addressing has clearly ceased to be his baby daughter and become his wife, and his message is a discomfiting blend of facile uplift and self-absolution. ‘What happened that summer nearly three years ago, and its repercussions, are long since over,’ he writes of the breakdown described earlier in the book. ‘Sometimes it hurts to live, but there is always something to live for. Could you try to remember that?’

“In Summer, Knausgaard tries yet another exploration of what he is living, and writing, for. Dispensing with the letter-to-his-daughter conceit, he alternates between the now-familiar evocations of the natural world and brief diary entries, composed in something like real time, mostly dealing with details of his literary life. And then, with barely an explanation, the journal metamorphoses into fiction of an unexpectedly conventional kind, as if Knausgaard is attempting a break with the self-parasitic form that brought him such fame and frustration. The first-person narrator is no longer himself, but a character based on a woman his grandfather knew during the war, a Norwegian who fell in love with a Nazi soldier from Austria.

“The wartime romance, narrated plainly, has haunting moments but is largely unremarkable. Yet, Knausgaard being Knausgaard, his furtive backing into a tale of two ‘I’s, rooted in very different ‘we’s, can’t help prompting speculation about what new experiment might be in progress. Why introduce a new novel under the heading of a diary? Why surround historical drama with vignettes about the quotidian phenomena of summer—lawn sprinklers, chestnut trees, ladybugs? After the intense self-focus of My Struggle, does Knausgaard now feel he can write fiction only in disguise? Is there some connection to the breakup of his marriage, which happened (according to press reports) a few months after he finished writing Summer?”

Read the rest.

Photo: Karst Mountains

Poem: Austin Smith, “Fences”

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