Two decades ago, the destruction of the World Trade Center plunged many novelists in the West into feelings of powerlessness and marginality. Fanatics of seemingly obscure background and motivation had set off colossal explosions in what Don DeLillo in Falling Man called the ‘narcissistic heart of the West’. Martin Amis was not alone in ‘considering a change of occupation’. Ian McEwan claimed to have found it ‘wearisome to confront invented characters’. ‘I wanted to be told,’ he said, ‘about the world. I wanted to be informed. I felt that we had gone through great changes and now was the time to just go back to school, as it were, and start to learn.’
In recent weeks, as smoke from mass funeral pyres rose across India, Penguin Random House India cranked up the publicity machinery for their most famous ‘author’, Narendra Modi. The cruelty and callousness of powerful men have been at the centre of many spirited recent debates within publishing houses across Europe and America.