The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon is a postmodernist novella, published in 1966. The protagonist is Oedipa Maas who unearths the centuries-old conflict between two mail distribution companies, Thurn und Taxis and the Trystero (or Tristero). The former actually existed and was the first firm to distribute postal mail; the latter is Pynchon’s invention.
The term ‘postmodernism’ “is more strongly based on a negation of the modern, a perceived abandonment, break with or shift away from the definitive features of the modern, with the emphasis firmly on the sense of the relational move away” (3).
“The French use of modernite points to the experience of modernity in which modernity is viewed as a quality of modern life inducing a sense of the discontinuity of time, the break with tradition, the feeling of novelty and sensitivity to the ephemeral, fleeting and contingent nature of the present” (4).
Jameson: “the transformation of reality into images and the fragmentation of time into a series of perpetual presents” (5). Identifies (1984b) two basic features of postmodernism as (1) the transformation of reality into images and (2) a schizophrenic fragmentation of time into a series of perpetual presents” (42).
We should “focus upon the actual cultural practices and changing power balances of those groups engaged in the production, classification, circulation and consumption of postmodern cultural goods´(5).
Cloud 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.
Ghost World is a graphic novel about two teenage girls, best friends Enid Coleslaw and Rebecca Doppelmeyer; both are cynical and pseudo-intellectual, and at the same time concerned and clueless about the future. The novel is set in the 1990s in an unnamed American town, filled with shopping malls, urban sprawl, and fast food restaurants. They have just graduated from high school and spend their time wandering, and criticizing the people and popular culture. They are close and entertain the idea that they maybe lesbians. They drift apart when Enid decides to go to college. Both are also attracted to their common quiet friend, Josh.
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 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).
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.