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Writers’ Notes on the Change of Global Eras

© Photo : Social MediaNew Delhi Lotus Temple
New Delhi Lotus Temple - Sputnik India, 1920, 13.06.2024
We are seeing the change of eras again, here and now. The British Empire witnessed its end in 1920-s and 1930-s, right now it’s the American and generally Western empire’s turn.
One of my earlier publishers called me and said that it’s time to republish my trilogy about the demise of the British Empire and the dawn of the new era. That’s the dawn of the very same era that is ending now, before our own eyes.
The time for these books of yours has finally come, said the publisher. Their problem was, they might have been written too early, but now...
You could have noticed the footnote for my regular columns, stating that I’m writing novels. They are spy thrillers, to be exact. And the mentioned trilogy is just that, three spy novels placed in the late 1920-s and the early 1930, when the British Empire was the only global superpower, impregnable, smug in its stunning success in grabbing and ruling something like 40 per cent of the globe’s land mass.

We know now that, in less than 10 years from then, that empire was to be shaken violently, and soon a new superpower was to take its place. But the heroes of my novels didn’t know that, they only felt ominous rumbles underneath their feet.

These three novels are very Indian. Some of the chapters have been written in Delhi, where I was helping to re-launch the Russian information center. Shadows of the Raj were all around me, starting from the Raisina Hill, a wonderful memorial to the gone British power and glory. And then there is a very Indian murder plot being placed in the center of the first of the three novels. It describes a group of British spies, sent from Calcutta to assassinate a troublesome gentleman called Mohandas Gandhi during his visit to Penang, Straits Settlements, British Malaya. Only thing was, these British officers themselves became victims of mysterious murders in Penang, one after another.
The aborted plot against Gandhi was real, if you didn’t know, only thing is, it was supposed to happen in Burma, not Malaya. Mahatma is hovering, like a huge shadow, over every page of that first novel, but never shows up there in person.
And then there is a second novel, also placed in Malaya, where the huge war in China is like a dark cloud on the horizon. Finally, the third novel is about the Philippines becoming semi-independent from America in the early 1930-s, and the spies figuring in the book happen to be Japanese – so what were these Japanese doing in Asia of the times? Who even cared about Japan when the Empire was ruling the waves?
Now imagine the reaction of less sophisticated of my Russian readers in the years between 2009 and 2013, when these books have been first published. A Russian writer doing novels placed in a remote corner of the world, in a mysterious and forgotten Jazz Age? Three Russian books without a single Russian character in them, but with plenty of Britishers and some local colonials?
Oh, these books have been noticed, all right. The critics called them exotic, unbelievably elegant, filled with smells and sounds of distant lands, etc. But, still, there was a lot of surprised readers, having no idea about why they were supposed to care about Indian, or Malay, or other lands, and why would they read about the end of an era. My novels have been noticed, maybe, but not noticed well enough for my liking.
So, there I sat, slightly unhappy, muttering something like ‘why don’t they see’? Thing is, I knew – or felt – that the era was ending, when I started these books. There was nothing mysterious about that, only professionalism. I was studying statistics showing that Asia was gaining prominence, I felt the change of attitudes of speakers at plenty of international conferences.

I knew the age of Asia was upon us, while the age of the West was going downhill. And that’s why I tried hard to see what the people in Asia were feeling and doing at a very similar period of global history. The only difference was, it was the British Empire that was coming to its end in 1920-s and 1930-s, while it’s the American and generally Western empire’s turn right now.

Finally, I was in New York when the huge global financial crisis came along. And, when in New York, I look around at the seemingly normal streets with normal people walking by, and kept on thinking about how it was in 1929, when the chain of further events began to unfold right from these same streets. That’s why I set the beginning of the first novel of the trilogy in August 1929, right before the ball started rolling and before the banks came crushing down, taking the whole world down the slope.

So, we are seeing the change of eras again, here and now. Maybe it’s even a bigger change than in the years described in my novels. After all, plenty of thinkers in and out of Russia are telling us that it’s the end of a 500-year period of the Western expansion over the whole world.

So the changes now will have to be bigger than it used to be in 1929. Bigger as in more terrible and devastating? The simple answer is, we don’t know.
If the US have replaced the Brits as the single superpower, as a main result of the World War Two, does it mean that China will replace the US sooner rather than later, becoming a dominant power of the world? What I knew very well when collecting material for my books, there were plenty of reasons for US to become a #1. These reasons were in the newspapers the heroes of my books loved to read, starting with commercial ads. The US, then, have won the minds in a huge technological revolution, that brought us refrigerators, washing machines and cars for every family. The Brits were behind, building up their colonial world on an entirely different base. Will China and its technologies win the minds now? The simple answer is, we don’t know.
So, what do we really know about the ongoing change of eras? Let us not forget that we are talking about novels, not about some cold non-fiction analysis. Novels are about people and their feelings.
My three novels are about a lady from Penang, of mixed Portuguese-Malay origin, deeply in love with a British spy and Orientalist, and it’s that love that made her a perfect British agent, on the threshold of gaining herself a country of her own, Malaysia. Thing is, there will always be good, strong and clever people, wishing to win their battle for the bright future and against the black tides of change.

Not all the British colonialists were brutes, oppressing locals. Some of them truly wanted to live in a brilliant world, gradually cleansed of racist idiocy of their compatriots. They employed their minds into getting out of impossibly adversarial situations, they fought evil that was encroaching on the countries they truly loved, be it Japanese invaders or German Nazis. They loved wonderful music of that era, and they dreamed of setting the world on the right feet.

There are people like that all around us, and it’s them who will usher all of us into that new era we know nothing about. Some other writers will compose books about them, and the time for these books will come in a most mysterious and miraculous way.
Dmitry Kosyrev is a Russian writer, author of spy novels and short stories. He also did columns for the Pioneer and Firstpost.com
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