Archive for December, 2008

‘Not exactly like home’: Review of Manju Kapur’s novel THE IMMIGRANT


 Delhi: Random House India, 2008, ISBN 978 81 8400 048 1, hard covers, 337 pp.


Review by Dr Christopher Rollason


Manju Kapur’s fourth novel is about an Indian immigrant couple in Canada. Here is an extract from my review –

full text on-line at:


Manju Kapur has already achieved a high degree of both critical and popular success, in India and abroad, as an admired exponent of Indian Writing in English (IWE), with her three previous novels, Difficult Daughters (1998), A Married Woman (2002) and Home (2006). The Immigrant, her fourth novel, in some ways observes continuity with its predecessors and in other ways breaks new ground. The Delhi-based novelist and lecturer (currently on sabbatical) at Delhi University’s Miranda House College has by now won a reputation as a frank and sensitive chronicler of the lives of (generally Hindu) Indian middle-class or lower-middle-class families and, above all, their women members.

Temporally speaking, Kapur’s territory has variously been today’s India and – what is not the same thing – her country’s recent past. If A Married Woman had a near-contemporary setting, while Difficult Daughters ushered its characters from pre-Independence days up to the time of writing and Home from the mid-60s to near to the present, The Immigrant here differs from all three in being located throughout in a period recent but not contemporary, the 1970s of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency. Spatially, too, it represents a new departure: Difficult Daughters did not range outside the subcontinent, while in A Married Woman and Home the non-Indian world (the UK, the US) featured as vacation destinations and, in the former case, also as an academic mecca, but both narratives were set overwhelmingly in India. The Immigrant, by contrast and as its title suggests, divides its fictional locales between India and Canada (with a couple of excursions to the US), thus and despite the time-lag with the present locating India in the vexed context of globalisation with far greater emphasis than any earlier Kapur novel. Sociologically, and looking at the class and occupational backgrounds of the characters, if Home found Kapur exploring the (non-English-speaking) lives of people lower on the social hierarchy than the educated folk of her first two novels, here we are back in firmly middle-class territory, with characters’ conditions ranging from the shabby-genteel to the nouveau riche but with educatedness, command of English and a certain international veneer always presumed. (…)

NB: for a link to a recent interview with Manju Kapur, see entry on this blog for 12 August 2008


Note added 10 March 2009:

This review has now been published in:

SEVA BHARATI JOURNAL OF ENGLISH STUDIES (Midnapore, India), Vol V, Feb 2009, pp. 105-109. For more oin the journal issue, see entry on this blog, 9 March 2009.


Note added 28 September 2010

This novel has been longlisted for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. See:

"14 authors vie for South Asian literature prize"
Preeja Aravind, Hindustan Times, 21 September 2010





J.K. Rowling, "THE TALES OF BEEDLE THE BARD", London: Children’s High Level Group / Bloomsbury Publishing, 2008, hardback, xvii + 109 pp., ISBN 978-0-7475-9987-6


Readers of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final volume in J.K. Rowling’s seven-tome wizarding epic, will recall the inset story ‘The Tale of the Three Brothers’, attributed to Beedle the Bard, which appeared at one of that book’s most dramatic moments – in chapter 21, when Hermione reads out the tale to Harry and Ron, all three on the run from the Death Eaters, in the home of the perfidious Xenophilius Lovegood. At the time it struck me as a remarkably powerful fairy-tale in the best Brothers Grimm mode, and it is now an enormous pleasure to find it once again, alongside with four new stories from the Bard’s storehouse, in this welcome companion volume to the Potter series. The new stories are: ‘The Wizard and the Hopping Pot’, ‘The Fountain of Fair Fortune’, ‘The Warlock’s Hairy Heart’ and ‘Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump’; ‘The Tale of the Three Brothers’ is the fifth and last.

J.K. Rowling has vowed there will be no more Harry Potter books as such, but ancillary volumes such as this – joining Quidditch Through the Ages, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and to be joined at some point by Rowling’s projected Potter encyclopaedia – do not amount to a breach of that promise, and represent an interesting extension of and commentary on the Potter phenomenon. The present offering appears as ‘a collection of stories written for young wizards and witches’ (Introduction, xi), written by Beedle the Bard in the fifteenth century and translated from the original runes by none other than Hermione Granger. Each story is accompanied by notes attributed to Albus Dumbledore and further annotated in person by J.K. Rowling, who also signs the introduction. This amalgam of story, purported translation, criticism and annotation in fact constitutes a highly sophisticated textual mix, and it may, I believe, be reasonably argued that with this little book Rowling is, once again, doing the world an educational service – this time by gently urging her younger readers along the much-needed path of textual awareness and intelligent criticism. Cervantes offered Don Quixote as an alleged translation from the Arabic; Edgar Allan Poe presented The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym as his imaginary hero’s adventures relayed to the world by himself; J.K. Rowling now serves up a set of narratives claimed to be written by one of her characters, translated by a second and commented on by a third.

Intertextuality, then, rules from the beginning: in her introduction, Rowling refers to ‘those familiar with the history of the most recent wizarding war (everyone who has read all seven volumes of the life of Harry Potter …)’ (xv-xvi), and indeed most readers of these tales will be in that position. It is assumed that readers know what a Horcrux is, and if a term like ‘Animagus’ is glossed it is to refresh memories, not to introduce something brand-new. Dumbledore’s commentaries refer at will to characters and themes from the Potter books – though a shade problematically if we think of the sixth and seventh, since he is said to have written the commentary on ‘The Tale of the Three Brothers’ eighteen months before the ‘tragic events’ of the sixth: as Rowling herself says, ‘Dumbledore reveals a little less than he knows – or suspects – about the final story in this book" (Introduction, xv). The reader, meanwhile, knows that the tale has played a major part in the plot of ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ and has already been multiply interpreted within that book by different characters. All this intertextual and interpretative dimension serves to make the young reader aware that books and stories do not exist in isolation, for we live in a world where all is related to all.

Dumbledore’s commentaries also have the function of conveying important notions relating to text and meaning. Of the first story, ‘The Wizard and The Hopping-Pot’, he immediately states that it is not as innocent as it seems: a apparently ‘simple and heart-warming fable’ or paean to generosity, it was greeted in its day with hostility by many in the wizarding community because of its ‘message of brotherly love for Muggles’ at a time of hostility between the two worlds (13). Albus Dumbledore thus alerts readers to the need to be aware of historical context when interpreting a text. Any idea of textual innocence is further undermined in the commentary on the second tale, ‘The Fountain of Fair Fortune’, when Dumbledore informs us that ‘more than one parent has demanded the removal of this particular tale from the Hogwarts library’ (39), even quoting a letter on the matter from none other than Lucius Malfoy, the father of Harry’s arch-enemy Draco. The young audience is thus confronted with complex issues of censorship and book-banning, and therefore, of interpretation: there are those who would carry their interpretation of a book so far as to eliminate the book itself. Finally, Dumbledore’s reading of ‘The Tale of the Three Brothers’ – necessarily partial, as Rowling had already signalled – should alert us to the provisional nature of any textual interpretation and the need to take account of a given reader’s position as interpreter.

The story-telling goes on: stories speak to stories and characters to readers. I will not summarise J.K. Rowling’s new fairy-tales here, preferring to leave their discovery to the reader. I hope, though, that these brief comments will have suggested something of the deft and intelligent fashion in which her tale-telling here not only – as we all know – encourages otherwise reluctant young people to read books as such, but is also able to instil habits of reading books well and wisely.  


For those interested in Walter Benjamin who know Portuguese, now created in Brazil is a significant and exciting venture in Benjamin studies, the Núcleo Brasileiro de Estudos Walter Benjamin (NBEWB) – website at:
The aim of this site (in Portuguese only), based at the Universidade Estadual de Santa Cruz, is to promote reflection on Benjamin’s work, with particular emphasis on its reception in Brazil. It includes a (detailed and well-organised) bibliography of works by and on Benjamin – especially, though not only, publications in Brazil – and will publish original texts and publicise Benjamin-related events in Brazil and elsewhere. This project will clearly be a most welcome addition to the growing critical mass of Benjamin studies in Latin America, and further testimony to the universality and contemporary pertinence of the philosopher’s work.
(organiser: Carla Milani Damião)
Photo above is of the Benjamin memorial plaque, Portbou, Spain


Now out is
the latest issue (No 11, July-December 2008) of the INDIAN JOURNAL OF
POSTCOLONIAL LITERATURES (Thodupuzha, Kerala, India; editor, Prof. K.V.
Dominic, Newman College, Thodupuzha). This journal publishes critical essays and
creative writing. I am, as of this issue, a member of the Editorial Advisory

The current
issue features, inter alia:

Studies of
Anita Desai’s “Fire on the Mountain” (Sr Sophy Perepaddan) and Dravidian
Aesthetics in Anita Desai (V. Ramesh); Bapsi Sidhwa (K.V. George); Khushwant
Singh’s “I Shall Not Hear the Nightingale” (Bilal A. Shah); Derek Walcott
(Shrikrishan Rai); and J.G.M. Le Clézio (Geetha Ganapathy-Doré); a piece on
Postcolonial Translation (Hemang A. Desai); reviews of Jaydeep Sarangi and
Binod Mishra (eds.), “Explorations in Australian Literature” (Eroulla
Demetriou), of A.N. Dwivedi’s volume of poems “Beyond Borders” (Patricia
Prine), and of V.V. B. Bama Rao’s “For Our Grandchildren and Other Poems”
(Shaleen Singh); and original short stories and poems, among the poets being
K.V. Dominic.



A memorial to Jorge Luis Borges, the first of its kind in Portugal, was unveiled
in Lisbon on Friday, 12 December 2008. The sculpture, designed by the Argentinian artist
Federico Brook, is located in the Jardim do Arco do Cego. The unveiling ceremony was attended
by Borges’ widow, Maria Kodama, and by José Saramago, an avowed admirer of the Argentinian writer
and winner of the Nobel that always eluded Borges himself. Borges’ great-grandfather was born in Torre de Moncorvo, Bragança district, Portugal, and this event marks Portugal’s tribute to Jorge Luis Borges’

 "Memorial a Jorge Luís Borges descerrado em Lisboa na presença da viúva e de Saramago"

("Memorial to Jorge Luís Borges unveiled in Lisbon in the presence of his widow and Saramago")


I register, without further comment, these two links to responses to the recent Mumbai attacks by two of India’s leading novelists.

Guardian, 13 Dec 08

*Mumbai Terrorist Attacks Echo An Indian Novel"
Interview with Vikram Chandra
NPR site, 2 Dec 08




Sabiéndose ya que en el año 2009 se celebrará el bicentenario del gran escritor estadounidense Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), me permito informaros de que acaba de abrirse, en:

una página muy llamativa, dirigida por el escritor mexicano Alberto Chimal, la cual invita a aportaciones textuales EN LENGUA CASTELLANA sobre cualquier aspecto de la vida y obra de Poe, con la finalidad de constituir un gran recurso hispano de investigacíón dedicada al escritor que ya fue alabado por Borges y traducido por Cortázar.




Aquí la llamada de Alberto Chimal:


Convocatoria: Poe 2009

11 de Diciembre de 2008 

"Las Historias convoca, desde ahora y para todo el año 2009, a una celebración virtual de la obra y la vida de Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), el escritor estadounidense, autor de cuentos clásicos como “El pozo y el péndulo” o “William Wilson” y poemas como “El cuervo” y “Annabel Lee”, además de gran iniciador de la literatura de horror contemporánea, la ciencia ficción y la narrativa policial.

La idea es reunir un gran depósito de textos, noticias y materiales diversos en castellano en torno al escritor y su obra: los archivos en inglés son bastante buenos pero no los de nuestro propio idioma. La invitación es para a todos los interesados a participar con trabajos propios o con los hallazgos que hayan hecho en la red. Se puede hacer de este modo:

1. Todo lo que ya esté publicado en la red se enlazará desde una página especial. Se aceptan propuestas de todo tipo de publicaciones: traducciones de los textos de Poe, reproducciones de textos de otros autores alrededor de Poe, cuentos, ensayos o poemas inspirados en el trabajo del escritor, video, animación, instalaciones virtuales…

2. Se podrán publicar también textos originales. Las historias ofrece espacio para un máximo de dos publicaciones por mes aquí mismo, también en páginas especiales, con los créditos correspondientes y respetando los derechos de cada autor. Se vale cualquier tipo de texto: ensayos, cuentos, poemas, lo que se quiera.

3. Para proponer enlaces a otros sitios en la red, basta dejarlos en la sección de comentarios de esta nota. Para proponer textos nuevos, se puede enviar un mensaje de correo electrónico mediante esta forma de contacto.

Antes de fin de año aparecerá aquí mismo la primera contribución: un par de traducciones nuevas de textos poco conocidos de Poe.

Se agradece desde ya toda la ayuda que pueda haber para difundir esta convocatoria."


NEW NOVEL BY JOSÉ SARAMAGO: “A Viagem do Elefante” (“Journey of the Elephant”)

José Saramago has a new novel out in Portugal. The 5 to 18 November 2008 issue (Year XXVIII, No 994) of the Lisbon publication JL (Jornal de Letras, Artes e Ideias) offered readers a seven-page special on the Nobel-winning author, previewing the 3 December launch in the Portuguese capital of his novel "A Viagem do Elefante" ("Journey of the Elephant") (the book is being concurrently launched in Brazil).


The main item in this JL special was a long interview (pp. 14-16) with the author by Maria Leonor Nunes (‘José Saramago: Una homenagem à Língua Portuguesa’ – ‘José Saramago: a homage to the Portuguese language’).


Saramago explains that this novel has, generically speaking, more of humour, allegory and fantasy than anything he has published before: ‘É o humor em estado puro’ – ‘It’s hunour in its pure state’ – 14; ‘é simplesmente uma invenção’ – ‘it’s simply an invention’ – 15). At the same time, Saramago wishes his reader to see his new book through the stylistic prism, as ‘una homenagem à Língua Portuguesa’ – (‘a homage to the Portuguese language’ (16). His narrative is, however, grounded in a historical fact: it so happened in the sixteenth century that an elephant called Salomão (Solomon) made the journey from Lisbon to Vienna (16)


Now out in ATLANTIS, the journal of AEDEAN (the Spanish Association of Anglo-American Studies), is my review – apparently the first – of Andrew Teverson’s book Salman Rushdie (Contemporary World Writers. Manchester: Manchester UP. 2007, ISBN 978-0-7190-7051-8). ATLANTIS appears twice a year in both print and (free-access) on-line editions.

  Reference: Review of Andrew Teverson, Salman Rushdie, Atlantis, Vol. 30, No. 2, Dec 2008, 141-146



 ISSUE 30(2) –



  “If ever a writer’s work lacked primal innocence, it is Salman Rushdie’s. It is impossible to write about the Indian-born, US-resident, British national, secular-Muslim, postcolonial and globalised novelist/polemicist/celebrity without being controversial. Equally, there is more than one Rushdie, and that in numerous senses. Generically, there is a postmodern Rushdie claimed as a British writer, and a postcolonial Rushdie seen as part of Indian Writing in English (IWE); ideologically and chronologically, there is an earlier Rushdie viewed as a standard-bearer of progressive movements and a later Rushdie seen by some, at least, as a convert to establishment values; qualitatively and again chronologically, there is, for many, an earlier Rushdie, author of epoch-making fictions, and a later Rushdie whose works are of lesser value. Above all, there is a ‘literary’ Rushdie, emblematic of magic realism and postcoloniality and the author of Midnight’s Children (1981), and a ‘non-literary’ Rushdie, his name a battleground between the advocates of free speech and those in both East and West who demand theocratic censorship, the author of The Satanic Verses (1988). Thanks to Khomeini’s fatwa and the surrounding controversy, Salman Rushdie has surely become the writer most written about in literary history by those who have not read and will never read a word of his writings. Any detailed study of his work has to operate some kind of balance between these ‘literary’ and ‘non-literary’ aspects, and the volume under review opts essentially for the former while incorporating comment on the latter. This is no doubt a necessary choice for a study which aims to cover Rushdie’s entire oeuvre, most of which is of no interest to those who see him only through the Verses prism; nonetheless, readers of a book like Andrew Teverson’s still need to remember that the name Salman Rushdie has global reverberations for those who do not read books.

  The book is divided into two main parts, ‘Contexts and Intertexts’ (five chapters) and ‘Novels and Criticism’ (six chapters), plus an Afterword. It proposes a reading of the oeuvre up to Shalimar the Clown (2005), thus following in the footsteps of, for example, the French-language study by Marc Porée and Alexis Massery (1996), which offered a comparably detailed overview up to The Moor’s Last Sigh (1995). Teverson assumes that understanding Rushdie means swallowing him whole, and, across a literary production perceived by many as wildly uneven in quality, accounting for and integrating everything. There is a chronology at the beginning; the end matter consists of endnotes, a (fairly brief) bibliography, and an index.

  The first half of the book locates Rushdie’s writing within a series of different frameworks – ‘Political and Intellectual Contexts’, ‘[Indian] Writing in English’, ‘Intertextuality, Influence and the Postmodern’, and, finally, ‘Biographical Contexts’ (a dimension which in this case not even the most fervent textualist can ignore) (…) The book’s second half centres on a detailed examination, again chronologically ordered, of Rushdie’s nine novels up to Shalimar the Clown (…)”