THE BLINDING ORDER
I read Kadare’s ‘Agamemnon’s Daughter’ last year and was impressed with his pithy novella. Yesterday I read another of his work, ‘the Blinding Order’ and was mesmerized by the political statements he made through a compelling fantasy.
Almost all Kadare’s works dwell on the Iron Curtain and the human tragedy that lay behind them. He writes: Dictatorship and authentic literature are incompatible. The writer is the natural enemy of dictatorship…
Kadare often sailed perilously close to the wind and many of his texts were banned. He had to smuggle out some of his manuscripts in a wine bottle. But his witty, sly and moving panorama of a universal history made maintained a glimmer of hope that even in the worst of times, things can still be done with style and intelligence.
Kadare’s writing is a striking reminder that great literature does not depend on circumstances, but overcomes them. Ismail Kadare won the Man Booker Prize in 2005.
An essential read for serious readers.
Saturday, 7 November 2009
Saturday, 26 September 2009
ALL THE NAMES
Saramago reminds us time and again why he won the Literary Nobel Prize after his most read work, BLINDNESS. His works are living proof of what great writing does to people and why he is considered the most influential of living writers.
Titled ALL THE NAMES, the book strikingly and ironically holds only one name – that of the protagonist, Jose, doubly macabre as the name is the author’s own. I have yet to read a work in which the central character is named after the author, except in memoirs.
Senhor Jose is a lowly clerk by day and an explorer of famous lives by night, a take off on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. One day he chances on upon an index card of an ordinary woman whose details hold as much fascination for him as any other celebrity’s. Rising like a phoenix from his own humdrum existence dictated by regimentation, Jose begins to track the woman down obsessively following a thread of clues in a bid to rescue her from ‘an oblivion deeper than the grave’.
As in all the works of Saramago, what stands out is not his vast repertoire of unhesitatingly alien words or his by now, infamous punctuation, but the eternity in the subject and the way Saramago goes about narrating the same with tongue in cheek humor. ALL THE NAMES is remarkable, both unsettling and delightful, perhaps the hallmark of true literature.
Every page in the book, though undeniably grotesque, has an multiple insights into life. Each paragraph stuns you while the hazardous string of words opens up the vistas of human nature, each path traveled upon by all great writers many times over, but nothing as momentous as Saramago’s, since they are laced with black humor.
You do not need a passport or visa to be transported to the realms of unadulterated human imagination. I chew on these words, the parameters of my intelligence and the translucence of fiction filling up like a hydrogen balloon.
Apart from Saramago’s THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS CHRIST, no other work of his stray so much into the realm of fantasy as this one. But when we realize the state of the mind of the character in question, all fantasy dissolves and becomes part and parcel of reality. His apocalyptical words on loneliness can be preserved for future generations, it is that enlightening.
Here are some jottings on the novel from all parts of the world.
‘The roots of Saramago’s tales run deep, tapping into a European tradition of exemplary fictions, in which the human soul resists the encroaching forces of dehumanizing bureaucracies. ALL THE NAMES is a fine successor to BLINDNESS, a work worthy of a literary Nobel Laureate.
LISA JARDINE, The Times
‘A fantastic tale of a cowed clerk defying the power of his monolithic employer. It’s the breezy wit which Saramago challenges a world where Love and Death must be catalogued and explained away by the dull – minded that makes his book so compelling’.
CHRIS DOLAN, Glasgow Herald
‘A lovely adventure, a search for an unknown woman, floats on sentences that topple over one another like waves’.
Monday, 27 July 2009
MAPS FOR LOST LOVERS
Nadeem Aslam became famous after the publication of ‘Maps for Lost Lovers’ in 2004. He had published ‘The Season of the Rainbirds’ in 19993. Born in Pakistan, Aslam now lives in England.
The story is about an honor killing that takes place in an unnamed English town. Jugnu and his lover Chanda have disappeared. Rumors abound in the close knit Pakistani community, and then on a snow covered morning Chanda’s brothers are arrested for their murder. The book tells the story that unfolds in the next twelve months.
‘Maps for Lost lovers’ opens the heart of a family at the crossroads of culture, community, nationality and religion, while expressing their personal pain in a language that is almost always poetic.
Honor killing is nothing new to sub continental readers, it keeps happening most of the time.
‘In this book, filled with stories of cruelty, injustice, bigotry and ignorance, love never steps out of the picture. It gleams on the edges of even the deepest wounds…A remarkable achievement.’ Kamila Shamsie, Guardian.
It needs great courage to turn one’s back on one’s culture and religion, as some of us would certainly understand. Some of us have gone through all this and perhaps more. As against people who show the courage to seek and find truth, there are those who dare not step out of the circle of religious and cultural bias, but live with their convictions, however tormenting life might be. It is this irony that is captured well in the ‘tender and vivid portrait of the strict Islamic mother, isolated by her unassailable belief.’ Alan Hollinghurst, Guardian.
‘It depicts an extraordinary panorama of life within a Muslim community…Thoughtful, revealing, lushly written and painful, this timely book deserves the widest audience.’ David Mitchell, Mail on Sunday.
Critics go breathless revealing the intricacies of this book. The telling commentary of expatriates in the UK is as disturbing as it is revealing. It is not coincidental that the story also depicts the clash of religion.
The story is exotic and is written in a nuanced language full of lyrical images. In fact, so thick are the interwoven imagery that the violence seems out of place and context. But as I completed reading the Map, I realized that if not for the lilting imagery, the brutalities pictured here might have been too much to digest. Though Aslam’s poetic language jars at times, I come to the conclusion that it was necessary, not because neither is violence restricted to the subcontinent nor to any community or religion throughout the history of humanity. As I look at it. History is the retelling of unimaginable cruelty practiced in the name of religion and ethnicity. As is evidenced from another book I am reading at present: FROM THE HOLY MOUNTAIN by WILLIAM DARYMPLE.
No religion is exempt from violence and bigotry.
P. S : As I completed reading Aslam’s ‘Maps for Lost Lovers’, there were reports that an honor killing had shook a village in Haryana, which is fast developing district in the northern region of India. Haryana was formerly a part of the Punjab Province, but later broke away as most people belonging to that area spoke Hindi rather than Punjabi. Punjab is the prosperous district on the Indo – Pakistan border, which had achieved self reliance in food decades ago. Their agricultural poweress are well documented. Their love for the good life, their good looks, their millions, and their zest for life also are well known. In matters regarding health too Punjab has come up brilliantly. Punjab is richest state in The Republic of India.
But this does not naturally mean that the state of Punjab is the best state of the Union. You might wonder why. Let me explain. Kerala has the highest literacy in the whole of India. Population growth stands at zero. Health indices are of world standards. Cleanliness is a way of life. But all this is wiped out when you realize that superstition and religious intolerance have slowly crept into the fabric of our society. Joblessness is rampant, as most of the IT related educated youths come from this rather small state, thus the ensuing high density of population. Kerala is a major tourist attraction, as its beaches and greenery are both exotic as well as industrious. Yet, the locals always stare at foreign tourists, worse, they harass them too. We may be tolerant towards other religions, but not to ethnic minorities. We are willing to practice only white collar jobs, but the moment the working class arrive from our neighboring states of Tamil Nadu, or Karnataka, we raise a hue and cry. It is very funny, as what the proletariat demands is the reverse of what you may imagine. They say why the Tamils should work for the less wages instead of the grossly upward swinging labor wages that we practice over here. Sikhs are hooted for their turbans, without understanding that they are practicing what their religion demands of them. The whole of South India is as different from the North as chalk and cheese. The country is so diverse that one cannot keep up with the several languages and cultures. There are twenty six official languages at the last count.
Being a secular and thriving democracy has its benefits. In fact, I firmly believe that it is this democratic and secular set up that has foisted India on to the world stage.
Tuesday, 16 June 2009
THE STONE RAFT
Jose Saramago amazes me each time I read him. THE STONE RAFT is the fourth novel of Saramago I have read and believe me dear readers, these are four of the hundred books you should have read in your lifetime. I do not mean to exaggerate. Harold Bloom, eminent literary critic has rightly called Saramago, ‘the most important living writer’ of our times.
Reading any of Jose Saramago’s books is no easy task. He is not for the average reader. Add to it, his unusual punctuation, and you have difficult reading on your hands. Though his topics are metaphysical and fantastic, Saramago embellishes his writings with unbelievably realistic details. Not even for a moment does the reader feel that he is reading a fantasy, or a tale narrated in the magical realistic genre, which they definitely are.
In SEEING, a democratic election throws up more than eighty percent of blank votes, jeopardizing the polity into frenzy. It is a politician’s ultimate nightmare. (After I read it, I badly wanted something of the sort to happen in my democratic country, but as always, people of India rise to the occasion, saving democracy as well as our faith in electoral politics.) In BLINDNESS, a whole city plunges into a white blindness, an allegory unparalled in imagination. This book was later made into a movie by the same name, which unfortunately did not do well. ( I have not watched the movie, though the DVD is available to those who buy the book on line.) THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO CHRIST is written in a style which cannot be delinked from history, though it is fictionalized. (This is my favorite Saramago, so far.)
THE STONE RAFT which I finished reading yesterday is a splendidly imagined epic voyage, written in the quirky Saramago narrative style, that I have grown to like immensely. It is enchanted prose.
The Iberian Peninsula, comprising of some parts of Spain and parts of Portugal gets fractured and unmoors from the European continent and begins to float in the Atlantic with a will of its own. The broken away land resembles a stone raft gliding on sea, raising several questions, political, social and emotional. Three men, two women and a dog begin a voyage leading to nowhere in a country in great turmoil.
Impossible situations abound in the book, but they are covered in highly realistic details. It has to be read to be believed.
Told in a deceptively simple, naïve style this tale of fixed points and shifting goals is a superb vehicle for Jose Saramago’s shrewd and witty dissection of contemporary Europe.
‘Confirms Saramago’s reputation as Portugal’s leading novelist…Tremendous wit is always apparent in his imaginative conceits, comic digressions and verbal and narrative games’ IAN CRITCHLEY in SUNDAY TIMES.
Saturday, 6 June 2009
THE WASTED VIGIL
Nadeem Aslam became a name to reckon with after his second novel, Maps for Lost Lovers hit the reading public and won the Kiriyama Prize as well as the Encore Award, and was later short listed for the British Book award in2005. It was long listed for the Man Booker Prize as well in the same year. His latest novel, The Wasted Vigil, is set in modern - day Afghanistan, the scene of a long line of war - torn country side.
The story spans nearly a quarter century, often interweaving and overlapping. The narrative vividly describes the terrible afflictions that have plagued Afghanistan since the time of Soviet invasions in 1979 when Kalashnikovisation of Afghanistan began in earnest and later when radical Islam reared its ugly head in the form of Taliban.
A Russian woman named Lara arrives at the house of Marcus Caldwel, an English doctor and widower, who lives in an old and abandoned perfume factory beneath the shadow of the Tora Bora Mountains. Their painful histories are interlinked. It is possible that Marcus’s daughter Zameen born of an Afghan woman named Qatrina may have known Lara’s brother, a soldier in the Soviet Army. Both Qatrina and Zameen are dead, becoming victims of the age in which they were born.
More people follow them in the following days, including two men from the CIA, Dunia, a young Afghan teacher and Casa, a radicalized youth intent on his mission. Casa is the atypical Islamic fundamentalist, having been indoctrinated since childhood into the cadre of a jihadi. The inner turmoil of all these characters, linked inextricably together, forms the crux of the plot.
The unrelenting and unforgiving landscape of Afghanistan and its steppe came alive in the novels of Afghan writer Khaled Hossieni in his novels, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. Aslam takes up the rest of the narrative in what has come to be known as the worst human tragedies of present day. The violent news stories and the clippings that we read about in the newspapers and watch rushing past in front of our eyes on the television screens. With the arrival of the Taliban, the story takes on the colors of terrible tragedy and this comes alive in Aslam’s novel, as though it was part of a modern day parable. The thought that it could be real, comes as a jolt to people like me, living as I do in a zone where war is a gory drama staged in the visual media, as far removed from reality as the horrendous landscapes of human misery and medieval violence. More so because these atrocities are practiced on women, the all time soft target of mankind from the dark ages, in the name of religion. I have enough reasons to augment my belief that there exists no god, and if at all there is one, it must be a man. It is for the very same reason that no religion has ever been founded by a woman – thanks be to women.
I reproduce here some of the unforgiving acts of brutality ever practiced on the face of this planet from this book by Nadeem Aslam.
‘Women are always dying in repeated childbirth because the husbands didn’t listen – Qatrina had to struggle with the mosques because they said birth control was the west’s attempt at reducing the number of Muslims in the world. And then the Communist regime came and closed down the family planning centers, saying it was an Imperialist policy to detract attention from the real causes of poverty’.
Lara herself had failed yet again to carry a pregnancy to full term. For a Russian woman an abortion was one of the more obvious options when it came to birth control, the men not agreeing to consider any preventive methods themselves …
‘A man from Usha kept making his wife pregnant year after year. The young woman was twenty – two and had seven children in six years. He never allowed her body to recover, despite warnings and pleadings from Qatrina. When he brought his wife to us for an eighth time, she was almost dead’.
David saw a woman in a silkworm village being paraded naked through the streets. She cowered as she was beaten by several men for having committed adultery, for having taken a Russian lover… he watched as a man came forward and placed around her neck one of the Korans he had brought.
Qatrina, a doctor and Marcus’s wife is flogged and forcibly made to amputate her own husband’s right hand, with the threat that if she does not relent, he would be shot dead. Their crime is that she is a Muslim who dared to marry a British doctor, but also because their marriage was sanctified by a woman. A microphone is thrust on her howling mouth as a crowd of Taliban automatons cheer around them.
Aslam does not take sides, as his critics have pointed out. But the condemnations of such mindless violence do take on a slant towards Western sensibilities. No doubt that these acts are condemnable, but there is a thread of overzealousness in Aslam’s narrative. The Wasted Vigil is neither for the weak hearted nor for the passionately patriotic. He writes with a quaint lyricism and the book is littered with peculiarly fresh imagery. Paradoxically, I felt that the kind of lyrical narrative does not fit inside a novel about violence spanning three decades.
Western critics have many times recorded the lush lyricism of the orient, but at times, it palls for no reason whatsoever. As I said, perhaps the subject does not suit either the subject or the narrative. I am told that Nadeem Aslam’s much acclaimed earlier novel Maps for Lost Lovers which is the story of an honor killing, does indeed warrant lyricism of the kind Aslam dabbles in.
The painting that you see above is done in pastels and depicts the front cover of Nadeem Aslam’s book. I think it has come out rather well. It shows ripe pomegranates, with one of them wrenched open and beginning to rot.
Friday, 29 May 2009
Friday, 1 May 2009
REVIEWS OF FOUR NOVELS
I have been reading at a hectic pace. I gobbled up four books in two weeks and am looking for more. As I have told you before, I have a voracious appetite when it comes to reading.
The first one was a novella by French writer, Milan Kundera titled IDENTITY. Kundera is ranked among the greatest novelists of post – war Europe. He has built the novella from a significant moment in life and has placed it on the resulting panic and confusion, set in motion by a series of incidents bordering on fantasy and reality. Like a tennis ball, the narrative moves from the real to the surreal and at times to dizzying heights of hyper reality.
It did not move me, dear readers. May be because it does not touch upon reality as much as it should have. Post – War Europe perhaps demanded calisthenics of a different kind, but the world has moved on from the surreal to the virtual.
The second one, again by a French author, J.M.G. Le Clezio. ONITSHA won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2008. It tells the story of Fintan, a youth who travels to Africa in 1948 with his Italian mother to join his English father he has never met. The boy is initially enchanted by the exotic world he discovers in Onitsha, a bustling city prominently situated on the eastern bank of Niger. But gradually he comes to recognize the intolerance and brutality of the colonial system in Nigeria. His view provides the novel with a close to real and horrified perspective on racism and colonialism.
The narrative is intensely lyrical. But for a few lines, intensely horrific on the treatment of slaves, chained to each other with their hands on the others’ neck, while their masters think nothing of having their luncheon spread out on the verandah and laughing at the nakedness of the slaves, the novel does not come alive. Dear readers, too much lyricism mars the work. Lyricism does not suit the subject nor does it lilt you to see the actuality. The pain of apartheid does not come clear.
THE COLOR PURPLE
The third book, by Alice Walker, THE COLOR PURPLE, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, also follows a similar theme. Written by an African American, (I do not know whether the term is politically correct), it explores the arid life of Celia, a young black girl born into poverty and segregation. Raped repeatedly by the man she calls ‘father’, she has two children taken away from her, is separated from her beloved sister, Nettie, and is trapped into an ugly marriage. But then she meets the glamorous Shug Avery, singer and magic maker – a woman who has taken charge of her own identity. Gradually she discovers the power and joy of her own spirit, freeing her from her past and reuniting her with those she loves. Set in the deep American South, and written in the colloquial South lingo, the book is average at best. The heavy ethnic ‘accent’ jars after a few pages and the human element is missing.
TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD
It is this universal human element that is present abundantly in Harper Lee’s TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD. This eternal classic has come to me a bit late in the day, but true to its word, the novel stuns you into realizing one’s own worth in a society steeped in prejudice.
Narrated from the view point of two young children, Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores the irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class in the deep American South of the thirties. Their father, a lawyer by profession, fights a one man battle against racial prejudice, violence and hypocrisy. It is an epic struggle for justice at all costs. The narrative is laced with spontaneous humor, which is the essential backbone of any and all good writing. The book won the Pulitzer Prize.
A MUST read for all age groups and manner of people residing anywhere on this planet.
Wednesday, 22 April 2009
I drove out of my h (OM) e and it took just under thirty minutes to bring me to the city of my birth and my life changed. If this line sounds familiar, it’s because you and I have read the mesmerizing opening lines of Orhan Pamuk’s novel, ‘The New Life’, which runs like this – I read a book one day and it changed my life.
I am happy I took the decision to drive out.
It is not as easy as it sounds. I mean if you were to shift your residence to a place just half an hour’s drive away, life would not change. It would surely have to be a miracle in motion. But the theater and the drama behind the shifting and a tiny slice of juxtaposed past would explain to you what you would otherwise not comprehend.
I was born here in Kannur, the northernmost tip of ‘God’s Own Country’, but we grew up in Delhi. Now New Delhi is not what it used to be. It is a buzzing Metro and the capital of India. Kannur is also not what it used to be. It is a city on the rise. Even then you would doubt about where the punch lies. The punch line is that I lived in a sprawling village since my marriage to the day I drove out. As you know, a city is a mindset, but so is a village. If you go down to the brass tacks, all modern amenities that a city dweller enjoys can also be found in a village. And without sounding too much of a braggart, you may safely assume that there are no real villages in Kerala, at least not the kind you would visualize in a Third World country. Now, physical reality is altogether different from emotional as well as rational reality. And this is where the crux of the matter lies. A village is a village because it has a parochial DNA cored on its brain map, which cannot be erased even after the Time Machine has dropped us on Mars and back.
That is the difference that changes lives in just under thirty minutes.
Ensconed here in the seventh storey apartment I find that some coconut trees have grown to this level and that is pleasant information, since all coconut pluckers are in great demand as they have all fled to Dubai. But what has surprised me is the sea level. As I see it, the sea stands much higher than the windows of my apartment, perhaps at the eighth floor level. At times I wonder too why the sea does not come toppling down over the beach and the roads and the coconut trees. Of course, that would be termed the tsunami. We experienced a mild tsunami two years back on a full moon day and it had created havoc in our neighboring state. So tsunami is out of question.
The rooms are sunny and windy and if any of you are interested, I can give you dollops of both these items in a carry bag, free of cost. Like happiness, wind and the sun can only increase, not decrease.
My paintings too feel happy. The painted boat on a painted sea is reveling at its safety away from the turbulence of the sea. Shekure faces the sea and she does a thud thud against the wall, though she still looks haughty. Some are like that. Ruya is serene and as usual gives me immense happiness and an unusual camaraderie, mavericks that we are. Maria Sharapova has pride of place and enjoys her exalted status. Still life of fruits and one of vegetables look well entrenched. Tiger burns only at nights. I might as well gift it to the Society for preserving tigers. They are fast fading from the face of this planet.
Earlier I looked up at every Tom Dick and Harry – shall we change those names – Mohamed Prashant and Sajan, but now I can afford to look down on them. From this height, men look like squirrels scurrying past. (The names are chosen randomly though there is a design in the madness, all three are from different religions.) If the left over ones feel the pinch, they are free to lodge a complaint at Lekha.com. Yes, she is my younger sis and all of five feet eight inches and when she walks majestically in her heels, she looks supremely confident. So now you have to queue up at her door for a pass.
The pix above was clicked by my classmate Pravin Madhavan when he landed up at OM last year.
Friday, 20 March 2009
'THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS CHRIST
‘The Gospel according to Jesus Christ’ is the most controversial and daring of Jose Saramago’s novel yet. The book more or less follows the chronological paths of the earlier gospels, though it dwells more on Jesus’ childhood rather than the later part of canonization where Jesus metamorphoses as Jesus Christ. Saramago re – imagines the life of Christ in an epochal work, no less important than all the other gospels, but is essentially a fictional and alternate history.
In Saramago’s own words, ‘My Gospel tries to fill the blank spaces between the various episodes of Jesus’ life as narrated in other gospels – with some interpretations of my own’. This would be an understatement since the novel literally shook the very foundations of Christianity, with all its dichotomies.
The ‘Gospel’ follows the life of Jesus Christ from conception to crucifixion, while focusing on a naïve Jesus, who is as human as any other of his times. He is pictured as entirely susceptible to human desires and inclinations.
Jesus is born to a devoted Jewish carpenter Joseph and his young wife Mary. The subtle eroticism in which Saramago portrays Jesus’ conception hacks down all former illogical theories surrounding Jesus’ birth. Just before Jesus is born the census of Rome decrees that all citizens need to register themselves at the original place of their birth. Joseph sets off with his very pregnant Mary towards Galilee, his native place. Mary gives birth to Jesus at Bethlehem in a cave assisted by Salome, a lowly maid. King Herod, who is visited by demons with the news that the future King of the Jews has already taken birth, orders his henchmen to kill all children aged below three. Here, I am reminded of the birth of Krishna, and the imprisonment of his parents, and the decree of the king to kill all new born children. Joseph hastens to save his firstborn forgetting his first duty as a human being. He forgets to warn the others of the impending disaster and is plagued by nightmares all his life, making him an insomniac in the bargain. He believes that he alone has been instrumental in the macabre killings of twenty five innocent children.
Jesus inherits his father’s legacy – the horrendous nightmares, after Joseph is mistakenly crucified along with thirty nine other rebels, who had rebelled against Roman occupation and cruelty. The transferal of Joseph’s perplexing guilt to his son ‘injects the story with the substance of modern day psychology’. This is where the despotic god, thirsty for blood and power, resurrects a celestial tyrant from the annals of the Old Testament.
Before Jesus’ tryst with god in a desert, Jesus has already met and lived with the devil and chosen to cohabit with Mary Magdalene. The miracles are narrated with a tongue in cheek technique, where Jesus himself is surprised with the results that he achieves. There is a fine interlacing of ‘somber realism, grotesque fantasy and wry humor’. The identity of the mysterious beggar at the Annunciation and the strangely compassionate shepherd with whom the wandering Jesus spends his formative years, provide a unique and unnerving twist to the traditional version of the gospel story. This leads in turn to the reconsideration of the age old debate on good and evil.
Narrated in glorious prose, ‘The Gospel according to Jesus Christ’ is an intriguing investigation into the worth of Christianity by ‘the most gifted novelist alive in the world today’ according to literary critic, Harold Bloom. The book portrays Jesus Christ as an innocent human caught in the machinations of god and devil. The provocative conclusions which can be drawn most transparently from the reading of the novel is not surprising to any reader well versed in the writings of Saramago, who reposts all glories to the human spirit. Brutally atheistic, Saramago vilifies religion – religion is always a very offensive institution to intellectual beings.
The novel ends with Jesus defying god’s orders as an angst ridden Jesus rebels by getting himself crucified by proclaiming that he is King of the Jews, rather than bowing to god’s dictum that Jesus proclaim himself as the Son of God. Jesus’ last word on the crucifix is a telling commentary on his rebellion. ‘Men, forgive Him, He knows not what He has done’. At all times I wonder why the nobility that human beings possess and practices is never highlighted as against the unbelievable qualities attributed to god.
The Gospel according to Jesus Christ’ is threaded with unveiled challenges and is designed to provoke. Provoke it did, as it became so controversial that the Portuguese Government had to withdraw the nomination of the book from The European Literary Prize in 1992. Jose Saramago went on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1998.
Reading Saramago is an intellectual challenge to all readers, except for those who are severely bent towards dogmatic religionism.
Tuesday, 10 March 2009
Reading ‘Agamemnon’s Daughter’ (Winner of The Man Booker Prize 2005) written by the Albanian writer Ismail Kadare was a revelation to me. A novella which hardly runs into a hundred odd pages is packed with the vitality of human life, which is the subject Kadare delves into.
Agamemnon is also ‘a searing story of love denied, then shattered under the chilling wheels of the state’. Kadare interlaces the story of a budding liberal media person and his love for the Suzana, the daughter of a highly placed official, who is tipped to become the head of the state. To attain that exalted and dictatorial post, a sacrifice is elicited from him, crueler than the mythical sacrifice of Ipigenia, daughter of Agamemnon at the altar of enthronement. The lesson that is dinned into the confused independence – craving society is that to be able to reach such a state almost on par with Stalin, one must also sacrifice their own children as Stalin sacrificed his only son, Yakov. ‘Yakov …had not been sacrificed so as to suffer the same fate as any other Russian soldier, as the dictator had claimed, but to give Stalin the right to demand the life of anyone else’.
All natural human activities are curtailed in the Communist Utopia of Albania in the name of socialism. Any dissent is dealt with an iron hand. Ismail Kadare writes, ‘Dissent was not possible. You risked being shot. Not, condemned, but shot for a word against the regime. A single word’.
As I would not like to be a killjoy by quoting much from either the novella or the blurbs on the covers, I would leave it to you dear readers, to read and enjoy the beauty of the brutally direct narration and the amazing vision that is captured in a text that is as tight as a new water tap.
Sunday, 11 January 2009
Jose Saramago wrote BLINDNESS much before SEEING, but one who has read both these mesmerizing works can identify them as political parables of ingenuity. Call them parables, fables, allegories written in the vein of magical realism, they are of immense value to the times we live in.
A man is struck blind at the traffic signals as suddenly as lightening. Several others, in fact the whole city is plunged into this epidemic of blindness, except for one. The first batch of the blind are negotiated into a mental asylum. Truly biblical in its parameters, the story unfolds on the unimaginably brutal life that awaits the blind. Saramago, at one point tells you how this must have been like the times when life began at the beginning of time. That must be the time when scrapings of civilization must have dawned on human beings. Saramago takes you to a world ruled by jungle laws. The blind rule the blind, it is the blind themselves who obliterate the lives of others, and it is the blind themselves who fight their way through this chaos.
Each paragraph abounds in maxims, some well worn, some twisted by Saramago in wily humor, but we must finally agree that yes the world is such a place. There is burning fatalism at every stage, yet the parable does not contain a single word that could take you out of the narrative for a breath of air. It is dark, it is BLINDNESS.
I always knew women were the stronger of the two, but Saramago seems to revel in capturing women at the zenith of their strength. Paradoxically, it is also the women who provide the reader with the much needed respite as well the bouts of scathingly dark comedy. From the highest point of evolution, men whimper back to the stone age while women wait and bide for their time. Women wait patiently to strike at the right time.
Among these two scorching novels, I preferred SEEING, since the scope of SEEING is much larger compared to BLINDNESS. But there is no doubt as to the strength of BLINDNESS, because it gives a garrulous glimpse of the beginning of time and takes you right into the dark corners of times beyond civilization. When this happens right in earnest amongst us, who pride themselves as being civilized, it has that brutal edge to it that we deny feebly.
Though New Year began with a tiny mishap, reading has put me back on track. When there are authors like Saramago, who can transport you to the unlit corners of one’s mind, there is not a second to be wasted crying, however dark the painted world might be.
So if you can see – Look. If you can look – Observe. We might come to learn that perhaps we are blind people after all who can just about see, but prefer not to.
The above pix was clicked at the time I joined the Chinmaya Mission College as a Junior Lecture in English after completing my Post Graduation. One of colleagues pictured here was the HOD of the Dept. of History and the other was my Senior in the Dept. of English.