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Have you heard of absurd literature? No? Yes? Or are you waiting for Godot to tell you about it?
But Beckett isn’t the only author writer of absurd literature. The best representative of course, but there is always room for more, room to explore right? You don’t wanna be homogeneous right?
And so in comes the play, “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?” written by the American author Edward Albee. The plot is nothing complicated: it is simply a story about two couples: Martha and George, the older couple,who invite Nick and Honey (the younger couple) for a late night drink after a party. The play is divided into 3 acts each with their telling titles.
But in the fairly uncomplicated plot, lies a whole new insight into the trying, absurd, fragile and strained relation of Martha and George. During the course of the party, emotional games are played, secrets are revealed through the complex layering of the plot. It is clear right in the first part that their marriage is a complete breakdown and in order to sustain it, they have to play psychological games and try to beat the other down through humiliation and fear tactics. In order to sustain the normative marriage they have to take on absurd tactics and at the heart of this is the constant mention of their son who never appears in the play but is talked about throughout.
The play then is trying to critique the pressures put on every individual to fit into roles the society prescribes without giving alternatives and how utterly disastrous these pressures can be if and when such normative modes of living don’t work out. What do you do if your marriage does not work, when your dreams of professional greatness do not go according to plan? Compounding this problem is also the gender roles enmeshed within these prescriptive notions: the binary of production and reproduction that binds a woman and man not allowing them to explore other possibilities and compelling to view their inability to fit into the gender roles as a failure for themselves. So for example, if a man is not able to get a good job and sustain his family, he is viewed as a failure because of the pressure on him to be the breadwinner of the family. He is not allowed to think that there can be a possibility for allowing the women in his life to share the responsibility of earning. Marriage and career and having a family are projected as the ideal modes of living in a human society and so there are no other possibilities provided for other modes or alternatives. Anything less than the ideal is unacceptable and worse, a failure. This can lead to utter breakdown of your identity and selves as every individual is conditioned for long about these ideas and how they are the measures of success and when don’t work, your very idea of what a life should be is dismantled and therefore living becomes absurd and meaningless.
The play is also a lot about the typical modernist ideas of how language is inadequate to express the breakdown of lives in the 2oth century.
In the hazy daze of alcohol that the couple immerse themselves into, the reader will be pressed to figure out reality from illusion but that is the charm and bitterness of the play. You have to keep constructing the truth, taking cues from their wild language, and wilder games of psychological torture, construct the world that they have constructed for themselves and shatter that illusion and then get to know the truth of their lives. But it isn’t like a mere detective novel where you solve the puzzle with the one sole truth you can divine from the plot. It constantly keeps you in a flux and you can probably get the truth but perhaps not be able to anything with it because though the play tries to sort out its loose ends end finish with a proper closing, the reader is left to ponder on what will happen to the marriages of both the couples as the breakdown of the the older couple seems complete although they are now trying to get back on a stable & non illusory path. However, Nick and Honey see in the older couple their own expectations of a marriage and a family and if these expectations are not fulfilled, then will they also fall apart at the seams like Martha and George?
No one can really tell but what we can do is perhaps not put the weight of all our expectations on one person and one institution? What do you think? Leave a comment.
What do you do when your life’s story cannot be told within the confines of the autobiographical genre? Its simple, you create a complete new genre to depict your life. Genres are anyway just constructed categories to arbitrarily fit works of literature into water tight compartments leaving no room for them to be seen as fluid, independent works.
Audre Lorde did the exact same thing when she wrote, ‘Zami: A New Spelling Of My Name.’ It is an autobiographical text. But she coined the term, ‘biomythography’ to describe the book. In an interview, Lorde herself defined the term as having, ‘the elements of biography and history of myth. In other words, it’s fiction built from many sources. This is one way of expanding our vision.’ Further, Ted Warburton defined it as, ‘the weaving together of myth, history and biography in epic narrative form, a style of composition that represents all the ways in which we perceive the world.’ These two definitions are the best ways to define the ‘genre’ of ‘Zami: A…’
In the book, Lorde examines her life with all its ups and downs by intertwining incidents of her life with elements of the world around her. It is not just a retelling of a life, but a close examination of the life while also intermingling the historical aspects that might have affected her life. ‘Zami: A..” tells the story of a young Lorde who is a child of hard working black immigrants from Granada, living in New York in the 1940s/50s.. The earlier part of the book focuses on her childhood and teenage years. The book is not the usual run of the mill bildungsroman type but rather a book that fuses the elements of poetry, fiction, autobiography, history and myth to tell an intricate story of her life in New York, in Harlem and later on when she moves to other places like Mexico. Throughout the narrative, Lorde has juxtaposed the events in her life with significant events of American history such as the Great Depression, the World War II, the independence struggle of the British colonies, McCarthyism, the black freedom struggle etc. It gives you a sense of the larger world and a minute history lesson as well. It enables the reader to put the time frame in perspective. Through the lens of the broader events, Lorde reflects on her life, rethinks her political awakening, her understanding and acceptance of her sexuality, her femininity and her position as a minority in America. Her marginalisation creates in her a political impulse, a need to confront the mainstream hegemony on her own terms. Lorde chronicles her relationship with her family, their growing differences ideologically and otherwise, her numerous relationships with various women, her life in poverty, her life of constant struggle and pain, her close knit group of friends, the close sisterhood she developed as a student which enabled her to become independent and many other things.
Lorde admits in the book that is tough to be a coloured immigrant in Harlem, tougher to be a woman and even tougher to be a Black woman immigrant lesbian. She is a minority in all senses but throughout the book she never allows this to marginalise her further. She finds ways to deal with them and the best way is to accept her individuality. Instead of moping around about her minority status, Audre finds hope in many ways and one of the ways is through her community of female friends, companions, girlfriends, other politically like minded people etc. She never allows any of her pain to close herself to the world but rather reaches out to the world to find people like her and find solace and comfort which helps her to assuage her pain.
‘Zami: A New Spelling Of My Name’ is a tender yet tough look at the trials and tribulations Lorde faces as she grows up and comes into her own.
To read an e-version of the book, click here.
Rephrasing the famous opening line from, ‘Pride and Prejudice’, ‘it a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of
power, must be in want of more power.’ Power and money are often themes around which entire books or series revolve. Power and money are often motives around which detective stories revolve. But when Jeffrey Archer uses these two aspects in his best-seller, ‘Kane And Abel‘, he fuses other aspects as well such as a bildungsroman theme, ego, hatred, economic empires, economic clout and a concise history of America from the 1900s’ to the 1960s’. This curious fusion creates a thrilling page turner in the form of ‘Kane And Abel.’
The plot is as simple as can be. Two infants-William Kane and Wladek Koskiewicz- are born on the same day on two different continents: Kane with a silver spoon in America and Wladek to a nameless mother in Poland. While William’s life is set out for him by his father who is the chairman of Kane and Cabot bank, Wladek’s life is fraught with difficulties and struggles in the light of which he discovers his strengths and weaknesses as well as his father’s identity. Kane steadily rises to the positions of power in America while Wladek embarks on a life changing journey to America to make a name and a fortune. Kane becomes part of the board of directors in his own bank while Wladek runs a hotel in Chicago after a lot of struggling in low paying jobs. Gradually, these two rise in power and stature, get to know each other by quirks of fate which cements their relation of hate and turns both on to a path to destroy each other. Are they successful in their personal vendettas? Read up the novel to find out more.
Some say that ‘Kane And Abel‘ is Archer’s best work so far. Having read only 1 other book by him, ‘Prisoner Of Birth’, I can’t really affirm this particular claim. What I can vouch for is that the novel will keep you engrossed with its breakneck speed, compelling plot, grasping writing, the twists and turns and the clearly etched out characters and situations. Spanning 60 years, ‘Kane And Abel‘ not only narrates the story of the titular characters but intersperses them with the historic moments of American history- the sinking of the Titanic, World War 1 and 2, Great Depression etc.. This proffers the reader interesting nuggets of history and manifests how history shapes human lives to a large extent.
The downside of the novel is that Archer tries too hard to make the two characters collide. There are too many coincidences that are strewn throughout the story through which their paths cross. After a point, these get too hard to believe. The occurrences of so many coincidences in real life is next to impossible. Archer also has tried to create sympathy for the two characters which at times is at odds with their sole aim for power and destruction. Moreover, there is also an impossible paradox to believe: Both William and Wladek helped each other at some point or the other despite the fact they were hell bent to destroy each other financially and emotionally. This is rather hard to digest.
The worst drawback of the novel is that it is male centric. Women have hardly any role to play in the story other than being mothers,grandmothers, daughters and wives. The only exception is Wladek’s daughter who is assertive and a working woman and not just a rich man’s submissive daughter. Perhaps to make up for this male centric vision of the novel, Archer has extended the story of Wladek’s daughter in the sequel, ‘The Prodigal Daughter.’ This constant association of power with men reiterates the stereotype of empires and power and money being a man’s domain with women only playing arm candy to the men.
Barring the above downsides, ‘Kane And Abel‘ is a fine piece of fiction, one that you can breeze through in a couple of days and elicit oodles of excitement from it as well.
Crime was never so bloodthirsty, brutality never so horrifying,loyalty never so exaggerated, mafia never so goddamn cunning than in the super famous, ‘The Godfather‘ penned by Mario Puzo. Everyone or almost everyone has read the book. It is included even on BBC’s top 100 books to read! For sure, it is a phenomenal novel that traces the American-Italian mafia in New York City with a chilling, nasty, story involving murders, shootings, family, loyalty, and the ubiquitous Mafia.
The story begins on a light note with assorted Americans asking Vito Don Corleone for help at his daughter, Connie’s wedding in 1945 just after WWII. However there is an unmistakable undertone of the macabre right from the beginning. The reader would quickly know that Don Corleone is a dignified, respected superior wields a powerful influence in New York, that his is an empire of crime and that he is a man not to be meddled with! This immediately sets the tone for something explosive to happen, something thrilling. The story moves on while giving the reader a quick, brief bird’s eye view of the characters and the situations. Then, a meeting with Vincent Sollozo, who wants Don’s help in starting a drug business, goes awry as the Don refuses to help out feeling that the drug business is too risky. Don being too old fashioned would rather stick to gambling, bookmaking etc. An all out war ensues between the five mafia families of New York wherein a lot of blood is shed and Don’s two sons, Sonny and Michael are unwittingly dragged. There are losses on both the sides and the Corleone family goes into decline and eventually the Don offers peace quite reluctantly only after a great personal loss which he promises not to avenge. But, being a foresighted man, he sees to it that all of Corleone’s families losses are restored and all revenges settled in the future. His son, Michael, takes up this job quite successfully and recovers the power and influence of the Family as it was in the pre-war days.
This 450 odd pages family cum Mafia saga is an intricate novel that will engage all sorts of readers of all ages. While it is at times violent and rather graphic, it is nonetheless a brilliant work of fiction that chills the bone with its lightning speed narrative and excessive doses of murders, crimes, beat ups and revenges. The writing style helps increase the speed-it is precise, to the point, does not meander and sticks to the point and Puzo does not go into elaborate descriptions when unnecessary. The pace of the story thus never slows down- a must for any thriller novel to be worth a read!
The story though quite gruesome and seemingly murderous, is quite sophisticated with an awesome plot, an astonishing ending, a complex chronology and an elaborate and labyrinthine narrative that marks the zenith of an extremely captivating crime novel.
What is rather difficult to overlook is the male centered plot of the novel. Women characters have no substantial role to play except be loving, obedient, and religious.
Other than that, ‘The Godfather‘ is a must must must read for all as it is carefully written with an eeriness that is omniscient and suspense that will make everyone keep turning the pages. Its a recommendation you don’t want to refuse!
I heard about the author, Sue Grafton, when I read the book, ‘Chicken Soup For The Writer’s Soul.’ It mentions her story, about how she got her works published which was mainly a collection of mystery fiction of what came to be known as ‘the alphabet series’ as each novel had an alphabet in its title.
When I came across one of the novels, ‘L for Lawless‘, in the college library, I excitedly picked it up hoping to be treated to an excellent thriller. However, my hopes, though not completely dashed, but nonetheless they were subdued. The novel was a bit uninspiring and did not motivate me to read her other novels.
‘L for Lawless‘ stars her usual private investigator, Kinsey Millhone. The novel begins with her narrating how she got involved in this mystery and how she regrets it. She recalls how it all started when a friend, Henry Pitts, asked her to look into late Johnny Lee’s mysterious absence of records in the Army Office when in fact he was a World War 2 fighter pilot. He had recently died and his grandson, Bucky, wanted a decent funeral paid for by the Armed Services. This request seemed harmless, a little bit of snooping around would have easily solved the problem or so Kinsey thought. Each passing day, a new aspect of Johnny’s life was unearthed and she found herself sinking deeper into his mucky past. A couple of break-ins in his house signaled even more mysterious trouble which Ray Rawson, an apparently old friend, helped Kinsey to understand. As she plunged into solving this ‘easy’ problem she found more criminal shadows in both Rawson’s and Lee’s past and unfortunately a brutal killer was set on her trail!
The novel, ‘L for Lawless‘ has great twists and turns, an easy weekend read, does not test the reader’s intelligence, a good time pass.
What didn’t work for me was the countless descriptions. Some of them are essential to move the plot but some just drag the pace. For eg, while Kinsey was in an airport, walking towards the convener belt, a dozen descriptions of what she observes is mentioned but that could be easily avoided as her observations in no way help her solve the case or move forward with it atleast.
I don’t know why, but when I was reading the book, I felt a nagging in my head that I was reading just an older version of Nancy Drew. Don’t get me wrong, it is not kiddish or a rosy book. It has its own set of blood and gore and definite shock and surprises.
The story is good but somehow does not click with me. I feel it is a bit amateurish. There are several other thrillers that are much more engaging and intelligent.
‘Doomsday Conspiracy‘ is the mother of all Sidney Sheldon books I have read so far. Sheldon stretches his own limits of writing thrillers in this book. It goes beyond any of his books I have read so far in terms of its pace, mystery, characterization, suspense and plot.
The story has all the ingredients that any suspense novel in general and Sidney Sheldon novel in particular will have. So what makes it stand out in my eyes? The heightened speed and pace of the story. It never slows down, infact the reader has to constantly keep up to avoid the story from running away! Its like Sheldon has put a foot on the accelerator of the story continuously. The plot rushes fast, barely allowing the reader to breathe.
So now the story of ‘Doomsday Conspiracy‘ goes something like this:
Robert Bellamy is the protagonist. He is the Commander in ONI-Office of Naval Intelligence. He had served in Vietnam where he found his love, Susan, a nurse in the hospital he was admitted to with no hope for survival. One ordinary day, Bellamy is summoned to the office of the NSA-National Security Agency-where General Hillard assigns him an extremely odd and seemingly tough task-to find the witnesses in a tour bus, who saw a weather balloon crash which contained secret weapons of mass destruction.
So what’s do difficult about this? (SPOILER)
Bellamy has no idea who these people are, what tour bus it was, what their names were, how many there were-absolutely nothing! All he is given is loads of cash and a warning to not take any outside help(SPOILER COMPLETE). As Robert goes deeper and deeper finding one witness after another, some pieces fit together while some seem increasingly bizarre. After his success, Bellamy realises that the hunter has become the hunted(This phrase is over used in today’s world, isn’t it? Ah…well..I can’t help it!). All security agencies are on his tail.
BUT WHY?-is what Bellamy himself does not know.
Bellamy, being the best officer, knows all the tricks in the book and does his best to successfully avoid capture. Entire chapters devoted to Robert on the run from the authorities are thrilling and super exciting. The reader runs with him to all possible places, hides deftly with him and just as Robert has no time to sleep and relax, so does the reader. The reader feels the tension building, the suspense lengthen and the fatigue that gnaws at Robert.
‘Doomsday Conspiracy‘ also conveys a message-to be good to the environment and save out planet Earth(Its like a pre-cursor to the film ‘Avatar’ in this sense). This is the unique feature of the book. Sheldon’s brilliant ability to entwine a suspense novel with a raging environmental issue speaks volumes of his talent as a thriller writer. This makes the book not only a contemporary one but also nothing short of a masterpiece.
The last verdict-If you haven’t guessed yet- the book is a must read ten times over. You won’t regret picking up ‘Doomsday Conspiracy‘. Its unputdownable.
Pakistan maybe known all over the world only for terrorism and dictatorship (and this is thanks to a very biased media) but as a country it is so much more than that-culturally and socially. Pakistan has a lot of history, tradition and the potential to churn out good writers as well. Mohsin Hamid is one such Pakistani writer. His book, ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ is a gem of a book, a satire yet Hamid gives it a touch of seriousness. It is a well written book that delves into the Pakistani psyche, displays Pakistani perspective, a perspective quite different from the typical American one.
A Pakistani man, Changez, converses with an American stranger in a restaurant/cafe in Lahore and tells him about his life story and how his life changed post 9/11 attacks. He talks of his life in America, being a student in Princeton, falling in love with Erica, having a steady job in New York. He seemed to have the perfect life which was interrupted by a nostalgic need for his home in Lahore. He seemed at ease in America, didn’t suffer from any identity crisis, any cultural conflict whatsoever. But that changed after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Thereafter the paranoia started mounting, discrimination began and when America went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, Changez felt like he was betraying his homeland by earning in America. He thus returned to Lahore, got the post of a lecturer where he encouraged students to become activists.
The most unique aspect of ‘Reluctant Fundamentalist’ is the fact that it is a monologue. Changez is the only person who is speaking. There are a few, rare dialogues spoken by Erica but essentially it is Changez’s voice, his narrative. We see everything from his eyes, his perspective.
‘Reluctant Fundamentalist’ is a satire on the mistrust, the disharmony between the east and the west and America’s interference into the affairs of many Islamic nations. Mohsin Hamid subtly berates America for its policies, for being paranoid, for stereotyping all Muslims, all bearded Pakistanis as terrorists and for waging war when victory is impossible.
Its a brilliant read that takes on a very contemporary political issue and manifests the issue from a lesser known voice’s version. The writing style grasps the reader into the story thoroughly. Its a witty book with an intelligent title, a title that suggests that Pakistani people unwillingly become what the Americans call ‘fundamentalists’.
Sidney Sheldon’s books are famed for their super exciting pace. The novel, ‘The Sky Is Falling’ lives upto that fame. Its an awesome thriller which rapidly navigates through the book’s murder mystery.
In ‘The Sky Is Falling’, the protagonist is a famous TV reporter, Dana Evans, who has just come back from her stint on war coverage in Sarajevo. The Winthrop family’s last member, Gary Winthrop is murdered in his home by a couple of burglars. This gruesome act sends shock waves through the world as the whole family had been wiped out in less than a year in several accidents. Dana Evans strongly believes that the deaths of the Winthrop family were not coincidental and believes that they were all murdered. She is determined to find out and begins her investigation. It makes her travel to all possible places like Italy, France, Russia etc. Her mission gets more and more dangerous as she gets closer to the truth. Will she find out the cold-blooded killer or will she get eliminated in the process?
‘The Sky Is Falling’ is a thrilling read, a well written, rapid paced novel. A definite treat for all who love reading thrillers. All the innumerable twists and turns keeps us guessing wildly till the end and shocks us with its unpredictability and surprise!