Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Brief comments on what we have read so far, from memory (-please add your 2cents, disputes, etc as you like):

Inheritance of loss, Kirin Desai

Everyone seemed to like the style of this book, but had some issues with the local details. Someone help me here, I can't remember much..

Unaccustomed earth, Jhumpa Lahiri

OK at the beginning both Amardeep and Samian really liked this, also Kate B. but Kate P. felt it (as with other Lahiris) was ultimately cold. After much discussion Kate P. realized that she feels Lahiri's writing style has more in common with some of the WASP New Yorker magazine authors, the people in the stories are generally disconnected emotionally. This was the essence of why it is uninteresting to her- a lack of epiphany and a lack of feeling connected. Perhaps this influenced the group a little. As a proviso, Kate P. also mentioned the interesting task that JL has in regards to representing the upper middle class American desi- sort of a burden, ala Bill Cosby. Samian's mom and dad generally liked the book. Samian and Amardeep pointed to several pungent moments in the stories.

A golden age Tahmima Anam

So this book was much admired in most cases, a full group attending. The book seemed to be very simply written but with a strong plot. Many people felt it was a good introduction to the history of the creation of Bangladesh. Samian had a particular problem with authenticity in the way a lamb was cooked whole. There was some debate about whether the mother's character was fully fleshed out, or whether she was mostly just a cipher for her children's lives, and whether that was OK or not. Many people enjoyed the writing about the relationship between the mother and the general.

I dream of microwaves, Imad Rahman

This one was very controversial. It sparked a lot of debate. Narayan in particular disliked this one. Kate P thought it hilarious and worthwhile. There was a lot of laughter among group members in the midst of discussion, and everyone admitted that they were not bored at any rate. The group was unclear about whether it was short stories as it masqueraded itself. or rather sequential vignettes, as Kate P. insisted. The taste issue here might be paramount- if the reader likes post-modern ironic sorts of works, she or he might think this one wonderful. Kate P. also really liked the many references to identity issues and ethnicity, and the post 9-11 world for diaspora Muslim men in particular, and as a sideline, the stuff about actors and theater as well. I cannot remember all of the objections to the story exactly, I am sorry.

Chemmeen, Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai

This was a Malayali title suggested by Sanjay, from the 1950's. This came about because we were looking around for some Indian authors in translation. (ditto for Samskara). Of the small group that attended, several did not completely finish the story, perhaps because it was a bit dense in parts. Much admired was the emphasis on the immutability of caste and marriage, and the picture of a fishing village in its day. One really fun thing was that we watched snippets of the famous Malayali film on Youtube while all together. The music and scenery were luscious.

The Hamilton case, Michelle de Kretser

Strangely enough, this was a short discussion. Sanjay was the only one I think that really did not care for the book, feeling that he got burned out by the self-conscious stylization of the author. Mary Jane and others agreed that the point of the book was not the mystery of the Hamilton murder, and Amardeep mentioned that the real detective story consists of what will the lead character do, will we get to know him and will he evolve. I hope I got that right. Sanjay said that his favorite part was what happens to the character's mother in the jungle, which both Narayan and Kate P. mentioned was very reminiscent somehow of Michael Ondaatje's autobiographical story of his family, also in Sri Lanka. Jamie was back with her new little baby, which was a huge treat for everyone, and made me kind of forget the smart things that she said.

Age of Shiva, Manil Suri

The discussion here broke down mostly along gender lines. The men in the group generally accepted the veracity of the author's voice as a man writing from a women's point of view. The women were pretty indignant about the idea that a woman would have such incestuous feelings about her own son, and be basically an empty shell otherwise. Although the story is not badly written, both Jamie, Kate, Kate, Mary Jane, and Samian felt that the story was rather one dimensional and did not go anywhere really. Sanjay felt that in his psychology field, he has seen weirdness as weird as this before. Amardeep was inclined to give the author a break, and liked some of the historical references to communal violence (I think?). Many had trouble with the authors specific use of the first person narrative, in which the lead character talks to her son the whole time, giving a feeling of separation from the story, or interrupting the suspension of disbelief, although I think Amardeep disagreed. Kate P. felt that the book was on a much lower level than the author's first effort, the Death of Vishnu, which dealt more with duty and class issues, and was rather transcendent. So we were all left wondering what to expect with the third of the trilogy.

Samskara, U. R. Anantha Murthy

I am sorry to say that I can't remember a whole lot about the discussion of this one, I seem to recall it being a bit hard to get in to, even though a classic, and look forward to someone adding comments to this.

The reluctant fundamentalist, Mohsin Hamid

Here was a more effective use of the first person narrative (as compared with The Age of Shiva). In this story we are mystified as to whom is the bad guy, setting up a sense of the unreliable narrator. It was generally very well liked, although the segments taking place in the US seemed a bit weaker to people. Kate P. had a reservation about the use of the word "fundamentalist" in the title- was it for sales/senstational effect? Because the character never does become religious in the story, let alone extreme. Amardeep and Kate P. both attended a talk by this author at the Free Library and K. asked him during Q & A why he named the character Changiz, perhaps a reference to Changiz Khan (Ghengis Khan) ? He said yes, and that it was meant with irony, that is, the one whom is completely powerless is portrayed as having teutonic power. Which led our group to a small discussion of the idea of- if there is no way to make a super power listen, to stop bombing ones' country, what remains except random acts of individual violence?

Evening is the whole day, Preeta Samarasan
A small group met at Mary Jane's place, Amardeep, Kate P., Narayan, Sanjay. Narayan particularly admired this book, both for the writing and the content. He and Kate and MJ all enjoyed very much a snapshot of Malaysia in the 1960's. Amardeep and Sanjay had some reservations- maybe the stage for the book was too small- restricted to the confines of the family's dysfunctional mansion. This led to a discussion of why people read books written by people from other cultures. MJ and K. are inspired to read to learn about cultural realities. what makes families work, how people do things. Narayan and Amardeep feel that history and other factual things are best learned by reading non-fiction as a back ground to fiction. K and MJ noted that you can learn a lot by reading fiction as well. We got to talking about how Updike and Oates are just as ethnic as any writer from another part of the world, and probably a great place to learn about class and the culture of WASPS for example...Amardeep's other reservation is structural-he felt that the book was done somewhere in the middle- and that after-stories were tacked on, and unnecessary at least.

1 comment:

katepourshariati said...

English, August, Upamanyu Chatterjee.
Here is one that I forgot that we read. This was a satire that involves an Indian civil service employee posted in a small town in the boonies. In some sense he becomes Bartleby the civil servant, that is, he "prefers not to". I think there was a general sense of dismay among the group at the complete lack of ethics displayed by the narrator until the end of the story. Kate P. was a big fan, seeing the bitter ironies of the story teller as a useful way of critiquing the modus operandi.