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).
Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar, published in Spanish in 1963 and in English in 1966, is a strange novel. It is considered revolutionary but reading it from a now perspective,it seems pretentious or the other possibility is I am ignorant (which I am, of numerous things). It read like a discourse on life, relationships, knowledge, and feelings.
It is a postmodernist novel in its use of narrative voices (first person, third person, and stream of consciousness) and techniques. The novel has 155 chapters, the last 99 designated as “expendable,” some of which fill in the gaps while others add information or simply record random musings (almost journal and blog-like). Morelli, a writer, appears in these chapters that also have footnotes. The novel, as suggested by the author, can be read in two ways: as a linear narrative from chapters 1 to 56 or by “hopscotching” through the entire set of 155 chapters according to a “Table of Instructions.” The reader can also choose his/her own path through the narrative.
Hopscotch is an account of the life of Horacio Oliveira, an Argentinean intellectual. He experiences life in Paris in the 1950s. The other characters consist of La Maga and a band of bohemian intellectuals who call themselves the Serpent Club. The other members of the Serpent Club are: Ossip Gregorovius, a rival for Lucía’s affections, the artists Perico Romero and Etienne, Etienne’s friend Guy Monod, Wong, and Ronald and Babs (who are married). There is jazz, walking in Paris, and intellectual discussions (too many). Continue reading
The Gunny Sack by M.G. Vassanji is set in Africa and is written in the style of a memoir. Vassanji himself was born in Nairobi in 1950 and educated in Tanzania. The gunny sack is bequeathed to the protagonist, Salim Juma, a Tanzanian Asian by his grandaunt, Ji Bai. The sack unravels the histories of the characters.
Themes: home, communities, diaspora, family relationships, and migrant life.
The gunny sack is described as,” It sits beside me, seductive companion, a Shehrazade postponing her eventual demise, spinning out yarns, telling tales that have no beginning or end, keeping awake night after night, imprisoned in this basement to which I thought I had escaped” (5).
Fasting, Feasting by Anita Desai, published in 1999, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for fiction in 1999. which was awarded to J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace.
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).