Ubud encounters: Louise Doughty lets fly

Besides meeting authors you idolize, one of the great pleasures of coming to an event like the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali, is discovering authors you don’t know but should.

Louise Doughty is the author of six novels that tackle head-on vast emotional, political, social and historical ground. Her most recent novel, Whatever You Love, deals with the death of a child, bringing the mother into direct contact and conflict with Europe’s burgeoning immigration controversy. Whatever You Love was shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award and longlisted for the Orange Prize.

Doughty’s first three novels – Crazy Paving, Dance With Me, and Honey-Dew – put different twists on contemporary Britain, from the supernatural to dating to murder in a proper village.

Two of Doughty’s later novels, Fires in the Dark and Stone Cradle, deal with the Romany experience in Europe, a part of Doughty’s own heritage.

I sat up and noticed when Doughty, also a playwright and critic, spoke about the reaction in some quarters to Fires in the Dark, which takes place during World War II in Central Europe, a period when Nazis murdered up to 500,000 Romany. “A lot of people said to me that they would never read a book that dealt with the Holocaust, as if that somehow made them morally superior.”

After visiting Cambodia’s genocide sites this year, I realized firsthand the importance, and the difficulty, of engaging these extraordinary instances of human brutality. We have a great debt to people who force us to confront what we’d rather avoid. We owe something special to artists like Louise Doughty that find new ways to help keep these issues in front of us, on the page and in person.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.