Tag-Archive for ◊ topics ◊

Author:
• Saturday, December 13th, 2014

Amitav Ghosh was born in 1956 into a middle-class Bengali Hindu family in Calcutta, India, to a lieutenant colonel father and a housewife mother. He grew up in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. He received a B.A. degree in 1976 and an M.A. degree in 1978 from the University of Delhi followed by a Ph.D. in social anthropology from the University of Oxford in 1982. As well as working as a newspaper reporter and editor, Ghosh also taught at the University of Delhi, the American University in Cairo, Columbia University in New York City and Queens College in New York.

Amitav Ghosh is a novelist, an essayist and a non-fiction writer. He has received prestigious awards including the Prix Médicis étranger, The Padma Shri, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Frankfurt International e-Book Award and he has been short-listed for the Man Booker Prize and for the Man Asian Literary Prize. The Shadow Lines, Ghosh’s second novel, published in 1988, won the Sahitya Akademi Award and the Ananda Puraskar.

Ghosh is now a full-time writer. He lives between the USA and India with his wife Deborah Baker,
who is a biographer, an essayist and a senior editor at Little Brown and Company, a publishing house in the USA. The couple have two children.

The Shadow Lines is set against a historical background that moves back and forth from the second world war in England to the nineteen-sixties in India, leading to the eighties and interwoven with the fictitious lives of the characters. The author tackles a specific theme: the power of memory, the art of remembering almost everything and how one can travel, virtually, to various places through one’s memories. The writer brings together, through the main nameless character, various periods of time and series of events experienced by generations of the family and friends in Calcutta, Dhaka and London.

Events start decades before the narrator’s birth and end on the eve of his return from London to Delhi. After becoming a mature young man and after studying in London for one year, he comes to terms with the fact that there is no longer hope of having his beautiful cousin, Ila, share his love now that she is married to Nick and madly in love with him despite their misfitted marriage. Before leaving London the narrator also finds out from May, Tridib’s lover and Mrs Price’s daughter, the truth about the mysterious death of his elder cousin and mentor, Tridib, while visiting Dhaka during the Bangladeshi revolt.

Tridib is a great story-teller, through his tales of London and various other topics like “Mesopotamian stelae, East European jazz, the habits of arboreal apes, the plays of Garcia Lorca, there seem to be no end to things he could talk about”, make everything real for his younger cousin. Both cousins are gifted with vivid memories, an acute sense of perception of the past as well as a strong desire to learn new things to feed their imagination. Additionally, the narrator’s grandmother, through her many stories about Dhaka, where she was born before settling in Calcutta, has “no home but in her memory” and she makes the narrator feel as if he was there with her.

The narrator realises, while sitting on the edge of a camp bed in the cellar back in Raibajar with his beloved cousin, Ila, surrounded by objects that carry a lot of memories, like ghosts of time, that “they were not ghosts at all: the ghostliness was merely the absence of time and distance – for that is all that a ghost is, a presence displaced in time”.

The Shadow Lines is a compassionate, powerfully moving novel in many ways. Ghosh masterfully expresses his thoughts in his eloquent writing. His characters are well depicted in an interesting, vast array of individuality. The narrator is a passionately imaginative recorder of the events and lives of people around him. The young Tridib is an idle, avid, multifarious intellectual. Ila is portrayed as a spoiled, beautiful young bohemian seeking complete freedom in her new world and although born an upper-class Indian, feels devoid of identity. Tha’mma’s husband dies when she is thirty two years old and in order to survive, she works for twenty seven years as a schoolmistress in Calcutta. She is hard working and authoritarian unlike her only sister, Mayadebi, who is richly married and referred to ironically as “Queen Victoria” by her elder sister. There is also the very old friends of Tridib’s family, Mrs Price, and her two children, May and Nick.

The violence in Dhaka and Calcutta described subtly by Ghosh and shown as incomprehensible and aberrant brutality, as in the violent death of the innocent Tridib, sadly still exists today in many other places of the world, e.g. in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, Libya, Israel, Yemen and Bahrain. In his novel, Ghosh describes shadow lines that create a seemingly unbridgeable gap producing bloodshed. These lines leave their shadows wherever they happen to be. They are irrationally man-made in order to divide people and separate countries artificially. While wars, religions, partitions and violence alienate people and nations, at least the power of memory combined with imagination keeps them united.

If you enjoyed reading this article or found it useful, please consider donating the cost of a cup of coffee to help maintain the site...
Author:
• Friday, October 25th, 2013

Tirdad Zolghadr was born in 1973 in California. He grew up in Tehran in Iran, England and North and West Africa. He obtained a B.A. Degree in history and political science and an M.A. in English and Comparative Literature at The University of Geneva, Switzerland. He worked as a cultural journalist and translator before working as a freelance art critic and curator.

He writes for Frieze and other publications and is a founding member of the Shahrzad art and design collective. He lives and works between Berlin and New York and teaches at the Center of Curatorial Studies at Bard College in New York.

Zolghadr’s first novel, Softcore, which has been translated into German, Italian and French, was published in 2007. In this satirical, cynical novel, the narrator, a cosmopolitan, art-minded individual, like the author himself, is an opportunistic young Iranian man returning to Tehran after graduating from Yale University in the U.S.A. He has a great plan for re-opening the family restaurant and cocktail bar, the Promessa, closed in 1978, during the Iranian Islamic revolution. He is ambitious and has in mind to transform, the Promessa, into a space for art exhibitions, fashion venues, workshops, film sets, corporate receptions and dance parties.

The narrator is part of the international art world and his most important mentor and muse is Stella, who he met ten years back in the U.S.A. She is always behind him electronically, telling him what to do. She is a German historian, specialised in postwar art brut while being a spy at the same time but he is unaware of it.

The novel takes a different path when the main protagonist is caught by the police and jailed for innocently photographing the Tehran neon orange flower stand, which happens to be near the Revolutionary Courthouse. Being a polyglot and widely travelled, he is asked by the police to become their spy or bear the consequence of refusal. From now on he is thrown into the treacherous world of conspiracy and deceit.

An original glimpse into modern cultural Iran, a contrast with the serious, conservative religious state of the mollahs. Tehran is depicted as an important international crossroad, but unfortunately there are some other interesting topics and opportunities which the author has missed, like elaborating more deeply about life in Tehran, the contrast between the regime now and during the Shah’s reign as well as to what extent people are coping and what are the authorities’ views on the arts today, etc…

Alas, taken as a whole, this is an obscure, unbalanced, pretentious, unconvincing novel. It is unstructured, irritably overdone with unnecessary name dropping of all sorts of products as well as names of rock and roll stars, poets and artists, ad nauseum. The characters are one-dimensional, incongruous and unsympathetic. They evolve haphazardly throughout the story which makes it difficult to follow the turn of events and confuses the reader. If the author intended to write an original novel he strayed from his target.