Sunday Salon: Four Months
I’m such a shocking blogger. Only just realised a few days ago that I haven’t posted anything here in about four months. Thought I’d compile a list; try to compress four months worth of reading notes into one post -
(1) The Glass Palace, Amitav Ghosh
I have this love-hate relationship with Ghosh, where I don’t much like his writing style, and yet I find his books so compelling. The characters in The Glass Palace were very endearing. In scope, it was impressive, though overly-ambitious. Lovely book, flawed execution.
Ghosh is one of those sort of fairly traditional storytelling types but is immediately ‘postmodern’ and ‘post-colonial’ and ‘exotic’ because he’s a 21st century non-white novelist who writes in English. Reviews on the covers of his books will generally read along the lines of:-
‘One of the most dazzling post-colonial voices of the subcontinent!’
‘You feel that Ghosh speaks with the true voice of the sub-continent, wise, superstitious and set firmly in age-old ritual’ (Birmingham Post) – ah, right.
Sweet Buddha, he’s not Ghandi resurrected. Let’s do away with the Orientalism, and the anachronistic stereotypes. Could it be that this, in the age of political correctness, is a subtle refusal to criticize ‘postcolonial’ writing?
I agree that Ghosh’s novels are wonderful. I love the detail, the scope, and even the pompousness with which he writes. But Ghosh is sort of an acquired taste, like a slightly cloying musk perfume that lingers in the air long after you spray it. It mellows on the mind after a while, but on the first read it’s like, “wait a minute. This isn’t, as the Belfast Telegraph puts it, a voice which ‘renders even the most historical of passages wonderfully readable’! It’s like he’s inserted paragraphs from Wikipedia articles straight into the novel”. Or even, “did I see this in The Bold and The Beautiful?” (or insert whichever daytime soap you prefer).
After a while, though, those things are kind of endearing. You can’t deny that he’s a great storyteller. And as much as those gasping and applauding critics annoy me, there is something extremely alluring and exotic about his novels.
(2) Fictions, Borges
First encounter with Borges. Love that he is so bizarre, and otherwordly, dazzlingly surreal and playful yet earnest at the same time. Still, I felt as though I was grappling around the edges without really digging into it.
(3) The Map of Love, Ahdaf Soueif
This book is rampant with Orientalism, in the Edward Said sense of the word. Not an altogether bad read, but full of romanticism, poorly constructed (absurd at times) cookie-cutter romance, Middle Eastern stereotypes and long political digressions. Unsure if it’s a homage or a parody. Soueif claims she was aspiring towards something ‘Mills and Boon-ish’ but I can’t understand why any writer would do that unless it was with satirical intent.
(4) War and Peace, Tolstoy
Took me a while to complete this one (no surprises there). More thoughts later – it deserves a full post.
(5) Kafka on the Shore, Murakami
My second Murakami, after Norwegian Wood. Reading Murakami is like watching a Hayao Miyazaki film. Surreal. Dreamlike. I don’t wish to sort of push the two together simply because they’re both Japanese, but I re-watched Howl’s Moving Castle the other day, and they have the same sort of ethereal feel. When they infuse their literature and art with the supernatural, the metaphysical, the fantastical, it doesn’t seem at all out of place.
(6) One Hundred Years of Solitude, Marquez
Sensuous, boldly written, masterful. The characters are horribly flawed and in some cases perverse, but ever so human, and ever so quirky and lovable. What I love most about Marquez is his ability to write such delectable, evocative prose. I get chills down my spine just from reading his charming, well-formed sentences.
(7) The Calligrapher’s Daughter, Eugenia Kim
Quite poorly written, but because it’s so rare to find any sort of literature written for/by the Korean diaspora, I always find it necessary to read things that are written by writers like Eugenia Kim. I had high hopes for this book (such a pretty cover too), but the writing was far from polished. Still an enjoyable read, though. More so because I feel such a cultural affinity towards the people and themes in the book, and because it did have a uniquely Korean flavour to it.