Archive for May, 2009

The White Tiger

For sometime I’ve felt that some of the best novelists writing in English are Indians.  Just as the Irish dominated English literature in the early part of the 20th century,  with Yeats, Joyce and Shaw, I feel the Indians are using the English language to advance literature, to make the novel their own.  Writers like Vikram Seth, seemed to honor the tradition and imitate the great novels of the Victorian age.  His great book, “A Suitable Boy” explored and exhausted the limits of traditional fiction.  After that, he went on to write a much more modern (and I think, lesser) book, the muted and interior, “An Unequal Music”.  It is beautifully written, but in the end, slight.  The heartbreaking fiction of Rohinton Mistry, Arundhati Roy and Rupa Bajwa deal with the pressure of  events and circumstances on people’s lives, rather like early 20th century American fiction.  Now, Aravind Adiga has raised the bar with a groundbreaking, disturbing work, “The White Tiger.”  Rightly compared to Richard Wright’s “Native Son,” Adiga’s book is more humorous but no less bitter.  It is also suspenseful and gripping.  At first I didn’t like his decision to write the book as a letter of confession, but that narrative device quickly diminishes in importance as the story is told.  Once I read a few chapters, I couldn’t put it down.  It rings with moral authority but is also just a good story.  Thanks to India, the novel lives!


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I remember the first time I picked up a copy of The New Yorker from where it was lying on a friend’s Mother’s kitchen table.  This was sometime in the eighties.  I read one snippet from the “Talk of the Town” and was immediately intrigued.  Another time I found an issue at their house and read an article about pies.  The author was traveling around with her dog in search of the perfect pie.  It was quirky and funny and well-written.  I was hooked. After awhile, I finally got my own subscription and have been reading it ever since.  It’s more than the eclectic mix of articles coupled with fine writing and editing, it informs my worldview in a way that is deeply satisfying.  For instance, recently I was reading a book called “Out of the Shadow” by Rose Cohen, it’s a firsthand account of a Russian Jewish imigrant who came over in the 1890’s from a village in Russia. While reading the story, I thought of “Fiddler on the Roof” and the life in the village, the Czar’s pogroms that pressued Jews to leave the country. In the “Briefly Noted” section of the May 4, 2009 New Yorker, there is a book review of “Wandering Stars” by Shalom Aleichem, the author of the stories that were turned into “Fiddler on the Roof.”  This book starts in a Russian shtetl and ends on New York’s Lower East Side, “capturing, with whimsy and pathos, the experience of the Jewish diaspora at the beginning of the twentieth century.” It’s connections like these that keep my faithfully reading the New Yorker, week in and week out.

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