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July 16, 1999
Sonny Mehta Is Recovering From A Triple Bypass Surgery in New York
A P Kamath in New York
Sonny Mehta, president and editor-in-chief of Alfred A Knopf, the publisher of some the most influential and popular books in the United States, is recovering from a triple bypass surgery at a New York hospital.
A heavy smoker, 57-year-old Mehta was lured from England 12 years ago to lead Knopf, the company that made a name in the 1940s when it published the works of such writers as Thomas Mann.
When he was hired, there was speculation over how long Mehta, who had led a small but influential publishing imprint in England, would last in the fierce New York market. In an interview with New York magazine over a decade ago, Mehta had spoken about his Sikh culture, and how he had acquired the "warrior" mentality. India born Ajay Singh Mehta is hardly known by his first name; he does not wear a turban but spots a beard and the kada.
Mehta is recovering well and is expected to be back at Knopf "after a reasonable time," a spokesman for Random House, the parent company, said on Thursday. Mehta's wife, Gita, flew in from England on Thursday to be with her recuperating husband, Random House said.
Mehta's prodigious energy and talent for editing has been praised by a slew of writers, including comparatively new writers who found in him a fount of encouragement.
They also admire his energy and the demand he makes from them.
A few years ago Esquire magazine observed that at a late night party Mehta ate very little, drank all night without getting drunk, and "seemed to revel in his companions' loss of control." The next day, as is the typical case with him, he was ready early in the morning for a long day's haul.
Among the current acclaimed Knopf books are The View From Alger's Window: A Son's Memoir by Tony Hiss.
The editors of The New York Times Book Review have included these five Knopf titles in their roundup of the Best Books of 1998. In fiction, Birds of Americaby Loorie Moore, Preston Falls by David Gates, and The Love of a Good Woman, Alice Munro were selected. And in non-fiction, Richard Fortey's Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years on Earth was chosen along with The Unknown Matisse by Hilary Spurling.
"When Mehta was chosen to lead Knopf some people said he would turn the company into a popular potboiler division," notes writer and film-maker Paul Noglows. "They forgot that Knopf had always published popular writers along with the likes of Mann. And Sonny Mehta continued doing just that."
Ric Ornellas, a literary editor in New York, agreed:
"On one hand, he would acquire The First World War (by John Keegan), and on the other, the latest thriller by Richard North Patterson. Now, how many publishers can match him?"
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