Friday, 1 May 2009
BOOKS AND READING
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.