Weekend Reading

Recollections of books carried back and forth on the elevated train -- in a long-term, though belated, attempt to learn something about the world.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

V.S. Naipaul : Half a Life

Alas, poor Willie.

His father a Brahmin - his mother a Dalit - and he's a talented writer with opportunities but no idea of what to do with life except fuck.

Compassionate - sharply observant - but ultimately self centered - just as the  book is Willie centered -  with secondary characters that are fascinating but sketchy.  How does his wife spend her time? How did Willie himself spend his time before he became more curious about his sexuality? We are told  nothing about whatever challenges he faced in agribusiness or as a husband. Would he have lived in Africa his entire life if the insurrection had never happened?

Presumably this novel  targets readers with a taste for colonial guilt and sexual perversity.

Yet the story breathes with life -- the narrative is unpredictable and exciting. It seems to diverge - instead of converge - as the story progresses.  When we're told that Willie has left London for Mozambique and will stay there for 18 years -- it's like jumping off the high board at a swimming pool. 

The story ends abruptly as Willie leaves Mozambique without career, family, or cash.  There is a sequel that begins in Berlin - so I suppose I'll next be reading about his German girlfriends.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Anisul Hoque : Freedom's Mother

This story is more of a panegyric tribute to ideal heroes  than a modern novel.  There is no complexity - no character development -  no ambivalence.

Azad was a young participant in the Bangladesh War of Independence.who was arrested, tortured, and killed by the Pakistani army. Sofia Begum was his mother who never accepted or recovered from his disappearance.  She mourned him every day of the fourteen years she had left to live.

It's not hard to see Azad as a Romantic young fool, too immature to take even the simplest precautions as he enters into the life of an urban terrorist.   It's not hard to see his mother as a foolish old woman too proud to reimagine a new life for herself after her husband takes a second wife -- and then later --- after her son is killed.  All she can do is gradually sell off her jewelry and cook for her family and friends. Someone needed to tell her son that he was on a path to destruction -- and it was not going to be her. His father might have intervened - but she firmly rejecting having him back in their lives - despite his  repeated entreaty.

A reviewer, Robert Hutchison (is he the writer of popular books on Christianity?), tells us that "by her strength of character and incredibly dignity, Safia Begum offers an example for us all".  Sadly, this may have been the message that Anisul Hoque wished to convey,  bit this is the death-cult world of orthodox Islam.  Everybody's honor is preserved - but their lives, along with many others,  are lost.  In the end, the world is no better off - just more of same.

One might also note that the characters are apparently oblivious to the Bhola cyclone of 1970 and 300,000 to 500,000 people killed. Apparently honor was not involved.