cover image A Time Outside This Time

A Time Outside This Time

Amitava Kumar. Knopf, $26 (272p) ISBN 978-0-593-31901-7

Kumar (Immigrant, Montana) delivers a mostly engaging polemic about the role of fiction in a post-truth world. As Indian American novelist-journalist Satya works on a novel about fake news at a residency on an Italian island in early 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic (along with feverish rumors and fabrications) begins to spread across the globe. The novel will be about “models of social acceptance,” as Satya drily narrates. Satya turns to obvious sources for guidance and material: George Orwell’s 1984 and Donald Trump’s tweets. While still on the island and later at home with his family in Maryland, he records boyhood memories from India, muses on the slippery relationship between journalist and subject, compiles news clippings, tells the story of a police raid on an Indian guerilla leader, reflects on police brutality and mob violence, and writes flash fictions. Scattered throughout are engaging summaries of psychological experiments—of varying validity—which are supplied to him by his wife, Vaani, a psychologist studying alpha male rhesus macaques. There are some moments of grandiosity (“What can one write to save a life?”), but it sizzles when it gets to Satya’s attempts to deploy, or resist, the “seductive language” and “hectic plots” of fiction amid pervasive mistruths. Overall, this experiment pays off. (Oct.)