Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

cloudCloud Atlas (2004) by David Mitchell is a postmodernist novel that has been adapted into a film.

Postmodernist themes: different narrators and narrative techniques (journal writing, letters, mystery-novel, and interview; also newspaper clippings), simulacra and simulation, intertextuality (the stories are interconnected and mentioned), allusions (real and imaginary) to other literary works, consumerism (Sonmi narrative) and historicizing the characters.

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The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

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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.

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Kanthapura by Raja Rao

276624-raja-raoWhy 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.

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A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

828696A 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.

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Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree by Tariq Ali

SOTPT-FShadows of the Pomegranate Tree by Tariq Ali sets up a basic duality of Islam and Christianity. It is the first of The Islam Quintet.  also traces the history of the clan of Hassan Banu Hudayl, complete with a family tree at the beginning of the novel (Ali 6). Family trees are extremely helpful, as are glossaries at the end of a novel. However, both seem to be important feature in foreign texts where words are not understood or even characters are too many (Rushdie and Marquez’s novels). The pomegranate tree is situated in the courtyard of the family, where two generations of daughters (aunt and niece) fall in love and meet their lovers.

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