I do wish some of my online Indian acquaintances had opinions about this book; in some respects it is difficult to know what to make of it.
For a startI do wish some of my online Indian acquaintances had opinions about this book; in some respects it is difficult to know what to make of it.
For a start one sympathises with the readers and reviewers online who complain about the structure of these stories. I would describe many of them as episodes rather than stories and for those who like an end to a story, this is a collection that will largely disappoint, most of them stopping rather than ending.
For another thing, I imagine non-Indian readers would find it a hard collection to comprehend. In the realm of fiction, of the various works I’ve read, this is particularly Indian, culturally and even linguistically. As well as the economic and social stratifications evident in Indian society, there is much about Britishness as it pertains to some, and geographical cultural distinctions. Not many outside India are going to have understanding of the situation of a Bengali in Bombay. Still, one wonders at this, for example, from The Kirkus Review:
Little happens in Chaudhuri’s otherwise exquisitely fashioned fiction: witness “The Great Game,” a vignette that employs the phenomenon of soccer combat to underscore tensions between India and Pakistan;
If it were not clear to the anonymous reviewer from the story that this is about cricket – yeah, not the world famous soccer Tendulkar – there is even a note about the story at the end which discusses it being about cricket.
A paired look at Werewolves in Their Youth and Tales from Firozsha Baag by Mistry.
I chanced upon these back to back, both short story collections bothA paired look at Werewolves in Their Youth and Tales from Firozsha Baag by Mistry.
I chanced upon these back to back, both short story collections both by writers in their working youth – Mistry’s first book and an early one for Chabon.
Both as much as anything nostalgic, bittersweet recollections of childhood, the middle class childhoods of their own existences.
Chabon: laugh out loud funny – you know…so that it gets almost irritating for those who are suffering through your pleasure. They start sounding snarky when they say they must read it too. The guy’s brilliant, this collection is splendid.
Mistry: the blurb says ‘extremely funny’. But the only good thing about the shit of his world – and I mean that literally, the shit on the street, the upstairs lavatory that leaks onto your head as you sit on the toilet, the filth, the water supply turned off at 6am because the city is without again, the monsoonal water running down the inside of your house – the good thing about it is that this is all happening to middle class educated people, the same ones who, had they lived in Chabon’s childhood, would have been clean and without want. This life he writes of is the relatively privileged existence one can have in India, that’s what I mean by ‘good’. I mean, there is a worse life. I couldn’t imagine anything less hilarious. I could not imagine anything, if it comes to that, less ‘compassionate’ – another promise of the blurb. I don’t know that Mistry is ever the victim of that sentiment, but certainly not in this book. He is without mercy, I would say, as he describes the degraded condition of the middle-class, to be juxtaposed against those that bitterly resent them for being – if not ‘haves’, then not as ‘have not’ as they are – those below these middle-classes, treated by these middle-classes as scum, servants to be abused from morning to night, day after year after decade. He is without mercy in his examination of himself, too, in the last story very nicely describing his safe-in-Canada life as he writes about the life he once had. ‘Joyful’ – another word from the blurb.
Mistry’s great skill is at depicting the India he has evidently decided is his mission in life to put down on paper. Probably even if he had the ability to write as Chabon does, it would be entirely inappropriate for the subject matter. Chabon, on the other hand, is not only a master story teller, but he is also a wonderful technician. It is perfectly clear that Chabon is a man who loves words, he loves the smallest units of writing, he loves the next largest, he LOVES what he does. I think Mistry works hard. I think Chabon works bloody hard but WE don’t know that he does.
In the end, I can’t imagine Mistry ever breaking out of what he does, living in Canada with a toilet that works, whilst writing somewhat guiltily about the life he so wisely left behind to that end. Chabon, on the other hand, has no fetters. He does what he wants, not what he has to. He can do anything – and, to be fair, he does. ...more
I know quite a bit about India in the period in which this is set - but only at a very micro, rural level. This is an urban middle-class story set agaI know quite a bit about India in the period in which this is set - but only at a very micro, rural level. This is an urban middle-class story set against the backdrop of the period of war with Pakistan, a world I really only started discovering through Mistry's books. For the colour of life in the city, the stench of it, its cheapness, its noise, its horrifying poverty-strickenness, its cruelty, this book can be thoroughly recommended. To watch the small attempts to rise above these circumstances, to escape to something better is distressing...
Some years ago I found myself collecting a rather appalling statistic. Women in India who are burned to death by their husbands, often in collusion wiSome years ago I found myself collecting a rather appalling statistic. Women in India who are burned to death by their husbands, often in collusion with the mother of the husband. The preferred method is to douse the wife in petrol and then set alight. It generally does the trick, though unfortunately sometimes one ends up with a dreadfully disfigured wife who survives.
The real eye-opening thing about this practice is that it is a middle-class commonplace. The woman burned to death may well have a university degree or two. In other words, there is nothing primitive about the attitude. It isn't backward uneducated people, it is people who might be perusing goodreads when not taking stock of their petrol supplies.
Mistry's books do not deal with such horrors, but they do give an account of the ways in which middle-class urban life in India is mean and dispiriting and difficult. It sets the scene in which the wife-burnings take place.
If you want an idea of what life is really like in India, given that we all in the West think it's about Bollywood, this is good place to start.
I'd given up wondering why Rohinton Mistry is spot on, while this misses the mark. At breakfast today, however, I found out that Roy isn't a writer, sI'd given up wondering why Rohinton Mistry is spot on, while this misses the mark. At breakfast today, however, I found out that Roy isn't a writer, she's a political activist. Everything is explained!
And there I was thinking it was because she'd won the Booker Prize....more