The Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibson is considered to be one of the top ten graphic novels (Time). The narrative has twelve chapters (in picture panels) interspersed with reports of different kinds. The non-comic narratives are: Holis Mason’s autobiography (Under the Hood), Professor Milton Glass’s report (Dr Manhattan: Super-Powers and the Superpowers), Ch 5 of the Treasure Island Treasury of Comics, prison and psychological reports of Rorschach, Drieberg’s “Blood from the Shoulder of Pallas (Journal of the American Ornithological society), excerpts from the newspaper (New Frontiersman), news articles, fan mail and interview about Sally (Silk Spectre), Viedt’s correspondence on figurines of Ozymandias, and interview with Veidt (“After the Maquerade”).
The Namesake (2004) by Jhumpa Lahiri is, again, a personal favorite. After reading it again, I relaized that it is an ordinary story of two generations of the Ganguli fmaily but this time, as an immigrant, I could connect more to the situations of Ashima Ganguli.
Themes: identity (Gogol and Gogol), home and the diaspora, immigrant, relationships (Gogol and his partners, Ashima and Ashoke, and the community of immigrants), and food.
The Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh is a personal favorite. I re-read this thinking that my love for it was misplaced but, surprise, it was not! One reason is Tridib, the central character, who functions as Ghosh’s mouthpiece.
Themes: home, memory, relationships (between generations), history, and borders (geography).
Place: “I could not persuade her that a place does not merely exist, that is has to be invented in one’s imagination… so that although she [Ila] had lived in many places, she had never traveled at all” (21).
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende is one of the few magic realism novels by a female author. It was Allende’s debut novel, published in 1982. It narrates the lives of four generations of the Trueba family. Clara is the most ‘magical’ character. There are also elements of Marxism both as a form of government as well as in the relations between Esteban Trueba and his tenants. There are also grand descriptions of the decorations in the “the big house on the corner;” the house reflects the relationships as well as upheavals in the family’s social and economic positions. This novel reminded me of Julia Alvarez‘s In the Time of the Butterflies in Alba’s imprisonments and Maryse Conde‘s Windward Heights (which itself is a retelling of Wuthering Heights) in term sof the descriptions and a multi-generational narrative.
Decolonising the Mind by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o is a collection of essays that discusses the influence of colonization on African (and applicable to other decolonized nations’) literature, theater, and fiction. It proposes various ways in which decolonized nations, especially Kenya (and Africa) can take their literary works and arts back from the influence of the colonizer. The text also proposes the importance of African languages and there is a constant reference to Chinua Achebe.
A “misleading stock interpretation of the African realities has been popularized by the western media which likes to deflect people from seeing that imperialism is still the root cause of many problems in Africa” (1).
Thiong’o looks at the African realities as “they are affected by the great struggle between two mutually opposed forces in Africa today: an imperialist tradition on one hand, and a resistance tradition on the other” (2).
This work traces different definitions of colonization and how historical accounts have affected colonialism. Europe is the villain and there are accounts of the brutality of colonialism. European civilization has given rise to to problems: “the problem of the proletariat and the colonial problem” (9).
“What is serious is that ‘Europe’ is morally, spiritually indefensible” (10).
What is colonization? “To agree on what it is not: neither evangelization, nor a philanthropic enterprise, nor a desire to push back the frontiers of ignorance, disease, and tyranny, nor a project undertaken for the greater glory of God, nor an attempt to extend the rule of law” (10). The decisive actors in colonization are: “the adventurer and the pirate, the wholesale grocer and the ship owner, the gold digger and the merchant, appetite and force, and behind them, the baleful projected shadow of a form of civilization which, at a certain point in its history, finds itself obliged, for internal reasons, to extend to a world scale the completion of its antagonistic economies” (10-11).
“Christianity=civilization, paganism=savagery” (11).
So Far From God by Ana Castillo is set in Tome, New Mexico and narrates the story of Sofi, her (on and off) husband, Domingo, and their three daughters, Esperanza, Fe, Caridad, and the youngest, La Loca (who is an epileptic).
Themes: Family, female solidarity, Catholicism, magic realism (visions of hell and character of La Loca), violence against women, business, technology, and identity. An interesting thing is how Castillo uses really long chapter titles; like for Chapter 1, she writes, “An Account of the First Astonishing Occurrence in the Lives of a Woman Named Sofia and Her Four Fated Daughters; and the Equally Astonishing Return of Her Wayward Husband” (19).
Why are canonical works of literature, sometimes, not as wonderful as expected? Or is that one of the criteria for labeling a work ‘canonical’? Raja Rao‘s Kathapura is one such work. I had read the Introduction in an undergraduate class on Postcolonial Literature and how strangely the English language functions after independence and decolonization.”The telling has not been easy. One has to convey in a language that is not one’s own the spirit that is one’s own. One has to convey the various shades and omissions of a certain thought- movement that looks maltreated in an alien language. I use the word ‘alien,’ yet English is not really an alien language to us. It is the language of our intellectual make-up-like Sansrit or Persian was before-but not of our emotional make-up. We are all instinctively bilingual, many of us writing in our own language and in English. We cannot write like the English. We should not. We cannot write only as Indians. We have to grown to look at the large world as part of us. Our method of expression therefore has to be a dialect which will some day prove to be as as distinctive and colorful as the Irish or the American. Time alone will justify it.
A Fine Balance (1995) is Rohinton Mistry‘s second novel, after Such A Long Journey. It is too long at 600+pages. It is a wonderful book set in Mumbai between 1975-1984 (Indira Gandhi’s Emergency features prominently), but it is still too long. There are numerous histories of the four main characters and their previous generations. It reminded me of Shashi Tharoor’s The Great Indian Novel, and its scope is as large as the Mahabharata.
The novel is nevertheless interesting and would probably make a good Hollywood movie. It is tragic but not in the Greek tragedy way. Sad and horrible things happen to characters from the beginning to the end with a slim section of happiness and hope in the middle. The four main characters are Dina Dayal (formerly Shroff); her two employees, an uncle-nephew duo of tailors, Ishvar and Omprakash Darji; and her tenant, Maneck Kohlah, son of her friend and studying refrigeration.
Rana Dasgupta describes the novel as, “The novel, as the title suggests, is about practices of the body. It enters households from their refrigerators, dining tables and kitchens, and it recounts human relationships in the language — not only of fasting and feasting — but also of greed, craving, taboo, disgust, bulimia and every other kind of relation to food. With its two linked novellas, one set in India and the other in the United States, the novel gives an excruciating account of how society can seize control of individuals — especially women — through such practices as eating, and remove them from everything they intended to be” (Dasgupta).