Sidharth Vardhan

Review of Midaq Alley

(A review by Sidharth Vardhanof Midaq Alley by Naguib MahfouzFirst written on October 1, 2016) I can see why it is called Naguib Mahfouz’s best novel (although I personally like his ‘Children of the Alley’ more). It has a large number of well-developed and complex characters built with great psychological insight. The Egypt of second world war comes alive in these pages. The lower-middle-class characters – barbers, sweet shop owners etc which populate the book are very much like people belonging to similar classes that I have met in India. Their psychology, their motivations which Mahfouz draws out so beautifully are universal though. The sexual desires suppressed because of social pressure, the strong desire to move up from one’s station in life, the constant consciousness of luxuries that are beyond one’s reach – which also turn some people towards corrupt ways. In this novel this desire also makes the youth (among which it is felt most) take part in the war as British army. Of course, once the war is over, the army lays them and their dreams out. One feels for Hamida whose fate is similar to those who, like her, ignore their emotional needs in face of the

Of Africa’s Hopes and Impediments

(A review of ‘Hopes and Impediments’a collection of essays by Chinua AchebeFirst written on August 12, 2015) This is an excellent collection of essays and journalism – most of them manage to look into African cultures in particular, while at time analyzing a theme fr humanity in general. North and South Achebe uses words ‘North’ and ‘South’ in same sense as we use ‘West’ and ‘East’. His North means Europe and also includes USA. He argues that Africa has so not been allowed to speak for itself – it has been assumed by west that it is incapable of doing so as if Africans were children or worse still animals; that even if Europeans (in Africa, Americans too are called Europeans) want to know about Africa, they will send their own expert to study it rather than listen to what Africans might have to say for themselves. To take a contemporary example, look at all those Discovery-Wildlife channels describing local cultures where all the hosts are Americans. Wouldn’t it be better if someone closer to those cultures was to describe them? There could be enough Africans who could explain their culture to world, even in European languages. But Achebe tells

Weakness of strong men – a review of ‘Things Fall Apart’

(A review of ‘Things Fall Apart’,a novel by Chinua AchebeFirst written on April 6, 2015) Called the father of modern African literature, Chinua Achebe is widely respected in Africa. Nelson Mandela, recalling his time as a political prisoner , once referred to him as a writer “in whose company the prison walls fell down”. He has inspired some big names in literature including Tony Morrison, Margret Atwood etc. ‘Things fall apart’ despite its ridiculously simple story is very aptly recognized. It involved breaking new grounds – the very choice of language of colonialists over any of domestic dialects was a major decision – Achebe thought English was the only language that can be used to communicate all over Nigeria; rather than country’s multiple dialects. There was an effort at creating a common dialect but the common dialect ‘just didn’t sing’. Set in Nigeria of 1890s, Things Fall Apart (Title is taken from a poem of W.B. Yeats) doesn’t wave any Tolstoyan worlds or tries to go into the depths of individual psyche like James Joyce. What TFA does is that it breaks new grounds; puts a dot of light in that undiscovered plane, which was so far summed up by

Of Gods and other demons – a review of ‘Arrow of God’

(A review of ‘Arrow of God’a novel by Chinua AchebeFirst reviewed on April 4, 2019) Read it because it was listed as one of Adichie’s favourite books. The story is somewhat like ‘Things Fall Apart’ in that it narrates a story of the rise and, later, fall of a man due to values changing under a challenge from colonial rule – only this time it was a religious leader, instead of a warrior/farmer. The reading experience was greatly enhanced from my having read Carl Jung’s ‘Man and His Symbols’. To begin with, Jung had much to say about the masks and their impact on personality and the group dances in which everyone seems to be in frenzy. I bet Jung would have loved the book – especially the relationships between the people in the book and their gods. The protagonist, Ezeulu is constantly holding conversations with his god – which might be called hallucination but Jung would have called it conversing with one’s collective consciousness. Because apart from these conversations with his god, Ezeulu can be considered normal. Moreover, people actually want him to hold conversations with the god Even more interesting is the way in which people can discard

The Palace Walk : A study in Patriarchy and Politics

(A review by Sidharth Vardhanof Palace Walk by Naguib MahfouzFirst written on November 3, 2016) The Cairo trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz is a work of Tolstoyan proportions, drawing a picture of a place during a certain period through its portrayal of a large number of well-developed complex characters. Though mostly it is a story of a joint family, it expands into the political and socio-religious arena of its times. There is a lot more to this book than I will go into this review of its the first installment of the trilogy, Palace Walk. Palace Walk The amorality of the narrator works for me most of the time but sometimes it is really irritating, particularly initially when he is talking about double standards of al-Sayyid Ahmad. When it comes to running his family, Ahmed is quite a traditionalist even for his own times (the 1910s and 1920s) – ‘strict’ (the polite word for oppressive) both as husband and father; so much that his (second) wife, Amina isn’t allowed to leave the house without his permission even after nearly two decades of marriage. When she gives in to the temptation to visit a pilgrimage place in the city (which she hadn’t

Racism in Americanah

(A review of ‘Americanah’,a novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie First written on Septemeber 24, 2016) Weak as a love story but powerful in its social commentary. I found a lot of similarities between people of Nigeria described here and that of India- people wanting to migrate to developed countries and real estate being the only investment that attracts the rich. ” There are many different ways to be poor in the world but increasingly there seems to be one single way to be rich.” – Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Then, there are migrant problems – the social and psychological stress they have to bear. The best parts though are Ifemelu’s sometimes angry blogs about racism in U.S.A. It is not always about the dark racism that is pointed out in the book, sometimes it is nice white people trying hard not to be racist: “Kimberly was smiling the kindly smile of people who thought “culture” the unfamiliar colorful reserve of colorful people, a word that always had to be qualified with “rich.” She would not think Norway had a “rich culture.” – Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Adichie is powerful and honest in her social observations and it

Wole Soyinka’s ‘Of Africa’

(Review by Sidharth Vardhan’Of Africa’ by Wole Soyinka First written on October 14, 2015) The title itself was fascinating to me. Not ‘Of Nigeria’ but ‘Of Africa’. Anybody who talks of thinking beyond political boundaries quickly gets my respect. Africa’s Political map – notice political boundaries are straight lines. “The rise of extreme nationalism, often developing into outright xenophobia, barely disguised under legislative formalisms that never name their real goal – exclusion – is a symptom of the increase, not decrease, of the we-or-they mentality that appears to be sweeping across the globe.” Wole Soyinka (Of Africa) He thinks that national boundaries in Africa are all fiction. Of course, all national boundaries are fictional; but in Africa the situation is made obvious by the fact that it is a fiction created by outsiders: “Boundaries imply exclusion, and it is undeniable that this tainted seed of guaranteed future conflicts on the continent was sown at the infamous Berlin Conference of 1884.” The thing is made clearer if you were to look at political map of Africa. You would notice many national boundaries to be straight lines, as if drawn by a ruler. That is exactly what Colonial powers did in Berlin

The Left-overs

(Review by Sidharth Vardhan of Death and the King’s Horseman: A Play by Wole Soyinka ) “Not I became the answering-nameOf the restless bird, that little oneWhom Death found nesting in the leavesWhen whisper of his coming ranBefore him on the wind.Not I has long abandoned home.This same dawn I heard him twitter in the gods’ abode.Ah, companions of this living worldWhat a thing this is, that even thoseWe call immortal Should fear to die. ” Wole Soyinka (Death and King’s Horeseman) It is based on a true incident and has in its roots, a Yoruba tradition that death of a chief must be followed by ritual suicide of the chief’s horseman because horseman’s spirit is essential for helping the chief’s spirit to ascend to other world (or it shall wander the Earth and harm people.) I think this explains the title. The king is dead and, Elsin, his horse-man is more than willing to kill himself. He feels duty bound to it – and would rather die than have his honor questioned: “Life has an end. A life that will outliveFame and friendship begs another name.What elder takes his tongue to his plate,Licks it clean of every crumb? He will encounterSilence

Fiction
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