Naomi Alderman’s first novel, Disobedience (2006), has been published in ten languages and won the Orange Award for New Writers. In 2007, she was named Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year, and one of Waterstone’s 25 Writers for the Future. Her journalism has been published in the Guardian, the Financial Times, the Sunday Times and Prospect. She also writes for computer games. Penguin will publish her new novel, The Lessons, in April 2010.
“Other people’s gods” was shortlisted for the 2009 BBC National Short Story Award. “Sometimes,” she told Prospect, “a piece of fiction can tell you what you think before you’ve worked it out yourself. I started writing this story trying to make myself laugh… and was surprised at where I ended up. Religion is such a complex, constant subject for me: to think it’s just about belief is too simple. There’s community, hope, superstition, longing, tradition and personal growth all woven together. Why do we live the way we do? It’s the most interesting of all questions.”
Mr Bloom led a blameless life until he saw Ganesha. Some people do. Some, like Mr Bloom, go to ophthalmic college at their mother’s insistence although in their hearts they had yearned to travel to far-off lands. Some, like him, dream of spice islands and dusky maidens but settle for Telma stock cubes and the buxom daughter of the retiring optician, Mr Lefkowitz. Some, like Mr Bloom, raise a family and examine rheumy eyes and rub their corns at night and quite forget in all that piling up of years that once they longed to stand bare-chested on a shore of golden sand, to go where man had never trod, to love as man had never loved. Some find contentment there, and others discontent. Mr Bloom, quite to his own surprise, found Ganesha.
He was on a market stall, among bangles and saris, joss sticks and wall hangings. There, in the centre, a porcelain statue of a four-armed man with an elephant’s head, or perhaps an elephant with the body of a four-armed man. He was bright pink, with large kind eyes and a golden headdress. One of his hands was beckoning, another motioning the observer to stay away. Mr Bloom saw at once that this was a god; what else could it be, enticing and warning at the same moment? He picked up the statue, the glaze smooth beneath…