‘Run and Hide’ explores what’s lost, and found, in translation

David Wilson for The Boston Globe

“I always wanted to get back to writing fiction,” said Pankaj Mishra, who for the past 20 years has written essays, articles, and books about politics. His first novel, “The Romantics,” came out in 2000, and his second, “Run and Hide,” this year.

“In a way I got distracted because this enormous atrocity happened in 9/11, and suddenly there was a lot of demand for essays and articles,” said Mishra, who divides his time between London and his native India. “I was writing many of those pieces and books, and the years went by, and I realized I hadn’t really done what I wanted to do.”

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There are things you can’t do in nonfiction, he continued. “I’ve written a great deal about the rise of countries like India and China in the last two decades, to describe how rapidly and drastically they’ve been transformed,” he said. “But what I could not explore in my nonfiction is what kind of effect does this massive rapid change have on the private lives of individuals. One of the things I wanted to explore was what happens between parents and children — they become strangers to each other. These gaps exist everywhere, but when there is such rapid change, those gaps are much wider.”

The novel isn’t autobiographical, but Mishra says he does share some characteristics with the people in “Run and Hide.” After all, he added, “most fiction writers are working with various hypothetical selves when they’re writing fiction. It’s a very mysterious process; you’re not aware of it when you’re writing it.”

The book’s main character is a literary translator who speaks Hindi with his parents, conversations that Mishra renders in both languages, a small example of the themes of local versus global life that echo throughout the book. “We kind of believe too much that all cultures, all languages, all societies are transparent in some ways,” he said, adding, “they’re actually quite opaque and quite mysterious, and we have to acknowledge that mystery, and be humbled by that mystery.”

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Mishra will read at 7 p.m. Tuesday in a virtual event hosted by Harvard Book Store.

Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.

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