Read the world

To mark World Aids day tomorrow, some of the world's greatest living writers have joined forces to fight the scourge by donating short stories to a book, reports Andrew Buncombe. Here we present extracts from some of the contributions

The stories come from as far afield as Nigeria and Tokyo, from London and New York. Not one of them is specifically about the danger and horror of Aids and yet each of them has been donated by celebrated writers who want to make their own contribution to fighting the global scourge and its effects - especially in Africa.

The stories come from as far afield as Nigeria and Tokyo, from London and New York. Not one of them is specifically about the danger and horror of Aids and yet each of them has been donated by celebrated writers who want to make their own contribution to fighting the global scourge and its effects - especially in Africa.

This new collection of stories will be launched tonight in New York by the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, and feature readings by three of the contributors - Arthur Miller, Salman Rushdie and Nadine Gordimer, the 1991 Nobel laureate who came up with the idea of asking 20 writers to provide a short story. It is being launched to coincide with World Aids Day, which is being marked tomorrow.

"It was about 18 months ago when I came up with the idea," Gordimer told The Independent yesterday. "There were various musicians doing performances to help fight Aids and I asked what were writers doing. We may give money individually but we had done nothing as a group. We are not performers ... if you give a reading a few people will come along but it will not make any money. But a published book - that's a different thing."

Ms Gordimer's vision has resulted in Telling Tales, a collection of 21 stories by writers as diverse as Margaret Atwood, Gunther Grass, Susan Sontag, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Es'kia Mphahlele. All of the 20 writers approached by Ms Gordimer agreed to contribute a story without a fee or any royalty. "I got the most incredible response - 100 per cent," she said.

The money raised by the collection, which is being published in 12 languages, will go to the Treatment Action Campaign, a South Africa-based group dedicated to providing treatment for Aids and HIV to all citizens. Its chairman, Zackie Achmat - himself an Aids victim - drew attention to its cause by refusing to take his own antiretroviral medicines until they were made accessible to South Africa's poor.

Ms Gordimer, a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Development Programme since 1998, won the Nobel Prize for both her literary work as well as her efforts to fight apartheid in her home country, South Africa, where she was born in 1923. An outspoken critic of the Bush administration and its limited support for Aids treatment and prevention, she has long been politically active and a believer that writers should take a role in political and social issues. "I think it was the great Albert Camus who put it the best - 'The day when I am only a writer I shall cease to be a writer'," she said.

It is estimated that 38 million people around the world are living with HIV and Aids, of whom five million will have contracted the disease in the past 12 months. Officials involved in World Aids Day, which aims to increase awareness about the condition and to campaign for better treatment and prevention, estimate that about five people die from Aids every minute - more than 7,000 lives lost every day.

In spring 2003, President Bush signed an emergency measure to assign $15bn (£8bn) for efforts to treat and prevent Aids. Critics point out that the money is spread over many years and that the UN fund for fighting the disease will only receive $1bn over the next five years. This summer at a global Aids conference in Thailand, the administration was criticised for refusing to allow its money to be spent on foreign-produced generic anti-Aids drugs.

The countries of sub-Saharan Africa comprise the area worst affected by Aids and HIV with around 25 million people infected. South Africa is believed to account for the highest proportion of that total with 5.6 million people thought to be HIV positive. In the region of Swaziland, 38 per cent of adults are thought to be infected.

Ms Gordimer, 81, whose most recent work, Loot, was published in September, said that she had seen first-hand the ravages of the disease in her country. "We are so blessed. We have wonderful natural resources, we are blessed now with freedom and one of the best constitutions in the world. And then there is this blow - the worst infected area in the world. Of course I have seen it among people I have known well. I've been to the Salvation Army hospital where they collect those abandoned babies who are infected."

The collection of stories is being published in Britain by Bloomsbury for £7.99 and in the US by Piacador for $14. It was decided to publish the collection only as a paperback to make it more affordable.

Frances Coady, vice-president of Picador, told The New York Times: "Perhaps now more than ever we should appreciate the power of fiction, the will to fight injustice and suffering."

Arthur Miller - Bulldog

"He had never held a dog before and was afraid it would slide off, so he cradled it in his arms. It was hot on his skin and very soft and kind of disgusting in a thrilling way. It had gray eyes like tiny buttons. It troubled him that the Book of Knowledge hadn't had a picture of this kind of dog. A real bulldog was kind of tough and dangerous, but these were just brown dogs. He sat there on the arm of the green upholstered chair with the puppy on his lap, not knowing what to do next. The woman, meanwhile, had put herself next to him, and it felt like she had given his hair a pat, but he wasn't sure because he had very thick hair. The more seconds that ticked away, the less sure he was of what to do. Then she asked if he would like some water, and he said he would, and she went to the faucet and ran water, which gave him a chance to stand up and set the puppy back in the box. She back to him holding the glass and as he took it she let her gown fall open, showing her breasts like half-filled balloons, saying she couldn't believe he was only thirteen. He gulped the water and started to hand her back the glass, and she suddenly drew his head to her and kissed him."

Salman Rushdie - The Firebird's Nest

"IT IS a hot place, flat and sere. The rains have failed so often that now they say instead, the drought succeeded. They are plainsmen, livestock farmers, but their cattle are deserting them. The cattle, staggering, migrate south and east in search of water, and rattle as they walk. Their skulls, horned mile-posts, line the route of their vain exodus. There is water to the west, but it is salt. Soon even these marshes will have given up the ghost. Tumbleweed blows across the leached grey flats. There are cracks big enough to swallow a man.

An apt enough way for a farmer to die: to be eaten by his land.

Women do not die in that way. Women catch fire, and burn.

Within living memory, a thick forest stood here, Mr Maharaj tells his American bride as the limousine drives towards his palace. A rare breed of tiger lived in the forest, white as salt, wiry, small. And songbirds! A dozen dozen varieties; their very nests were built of music. Half a century ago, his father riding through the forest would hum along with their arias, could hear the tigers joining in the choruses. But now his father is dead, the tigers are extinct, and the birds have all gone, except one, which never sings a note, and, in the absence of trees, makes its nest in a secret place that has not been revealed. The firebird, he whispers, and his bride, a child of the big city, a foreigner, no virgin, laughs at such exotic melodramatics, tossing her long bright hair; which is yellow, like a flame."

Gabriel García Márquez - Death Constant Beyond Love

"Senator Onesimo Sanchez had six months and eleven days to go before his death when he found the woman of his life. He met her in Rosal del Virrey, an illusory village which by night was the furtive wharf for smugglers' ships, and on the other hand, in broad daylight looked like the most useless inlet on the desert, facing a sea that was arid and so far from everything no one would have suspected that someone capable of changing the destiny of anyone who lived there. Even its name was a kind of joke, because the only rose in that village was being worn by Senator Onesimo Sanchez on the same afternoon when he met Laura Farina.

It was an unavoidable stop in the electoral campaign he made every four years. The carnival wagons had arrived in the morning. Then came the trucks with the rented Indians who were carried into the towns in order to enlarge the crowds at public ceremonies. A short time before eleven o'clock, along with the music and rockets and jeeps of the retinue, the ministerial automobile, the colour of strawberry soda, arrived. Senator Onesimo Sanchez was placid and weatherless inside the air-conditioned car, but as soon as he opened the door he was shaken by a gust of fire and his shirt of pure silk was soaked in a kind of light-coloured soup and he felt many years older and more alone than ever."

Margaret Atwood - The Age of Lead

"Jane and Vincent did not exactly go out together. Instead they made fun of going out. When the coast was clear and Jane's mother wasn't home, Vincent would appear at the door with his face painted bright yellow, and Jane would put her bathrobe on back to front and they would order Chinese food and alarm the delivery boy and eat sitting cross-legged on the floor, clumsily, with chopsticks.

Or Vincent would turn up in a threadbare 30-year-old suit and a bowler hat and a cane, and Jane would rummage in the cupboard for a discarded church-going hat of her mother's, with smashed cloth violets and a veil, and they would go downtown and walk around, making loud remarks about the passers-by, pretending to be old, or poor, or crazy.

It was thoughtless and in bad taste, which was what they both liked about it. Vincent took Jane to the graduation formal, and they picked out her dress together at one of the second-hand clothing shops Vincent frequented, giggling at the shock and admiration they hoped to cause ... They tangoed around the gymnasium, even though the music was not a tango, under the tissue-paper flowers, cutting a black swath through the sea of pastel tulle, unsmiling, projecting a corny sexual menace, Vincent with Jane's long pearl necklace clenched between his teeth."

Woody Allen - The Rejection

"When Boris Ivanovich opened the letter and read its contents he and his wife Anna turned pale. It was a rejection of their three-year-old son Mischa by the very best nursery school in Manhattan.

"This can't be," Boris Ivanovich said, stricken.

"No, no, there must be some mistake," his wife concurred. "After all, he's a bright boy, pleasant and outgoing, with good verbal skills and facile with crayons and Mr Potato Head."

Boris Ivanovich was lost in his own reveries. How could he face his co-workers when Mischa had failed to get into a preschool of reputation? He could hear Siminov's mocking: "You don't understand these matters. Connections are important. Money must change hands. You're such a bumpkin, Boris Ivanovich."

"No, no, it isn't that," Boris Ivanovich heard himself protest. "I greased everybody, from the teachers to the window washers, and still the kid couldn't hack it."

"Did he do well at his interview?" Siminov would ask. "Yes," Boris would reply, "although he had some difficulty stacking blocks." "Tentative with blocks," Siminov whined in his contemptuous fashion. "That speaks for serious emotional difficulties. Who'd want an oaf that can't make a castle?"

But perhaps he won't have heard about it, Boris Ivanovich thought.

The following Monday, when Boris Ivanovich went into his office it was clear that everyone knew. There was a dead hare lying on his desk. Siminov came in, his face like a thundercloud."

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