Sidharth Vardhan

Annie Ernaux’s ‘The Years’ – the story of a generation

(A review of ‘The Years’,a novel by Annie ErnauxEnglish translation by Alison L Strayer nominated for International Booker 2019 First written on March 25, 2019 ) “We were mutating. We didn’t know what our new shape would be.” Annie Ernaux (The Years) I love the International Booker Prize’s new version. They always have at least a couple of gems in their long list. And this book is such a gem. You could start introducing it by saying that it is an autobiography, however, it ain’t just biography of a single person, rather it is a biography of a whole French generation born around 1940. Since the industrial revolution, generational differences have widened exponentially. And a single person can live to see the world change many times in his or her life and that is the case with the generation the author talks about. The generation which is the protagonist of the novel (the pronoun used is ‘we’) was raised in a peasant conservative family and grew up through second world war, cold war, death of philosophers (philosophers are to French what babas are to Indians and authors are to Russians) liberalization of economy, metro, consumerisation of society, television, sexual revolution,

Onions and Potatos : review of ‘The Tin Drum’

(Review by Sidharth Vardhan’The Tin Drum’ – a novel by Nobel laureate Günter GrassFirst written on May 24, 2015) In the very first chapter of Nobel laureate Gunter Grass’ incredible novel ‘The Tin Drum’, I was reminded of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight Children(MC) because of the narrator Oscar’s conversational tone of narrative – same as that of Saleem Shinai of MC. Once MC was in my mind couldn’t help locating similarities – both narrators start their stories with the first meeting of their maternal grandparents, both like talking about sex, both of them feel need to hide from the world (Oskar in grandmother’s skirts, Shinai in laundry box) etc. Still, there are enough differences, MC is more magical realism, ‘The Tin Drum’ is more about the unreliable narrator Unreliable Narrator Did I already mentioned ‘unreliable narrator’? Yes, I did. In fact, tell me, why would you consider a narrator unreliable? Maybe he is out of mind or delusional, or he is a habitual liar, or he is full of inferiority or superiority complexes, or he had lied to you before, or he is full of guilt. Oscar fulfills all these conditions. ‘The Tin Drum’ begins with lines: “GRANTED: I AM an

On Violence – A review of Arendt’s essay

(A review of ‘On Violence’,an essay by Hannah Arendtfirst written on February 18, 2019) “Violence can always destroy power; out of the barrel of a gun grows the most effective command, resulting in the most instant and perfect obedience. What never can grow out of it is power.” Hannah Arendt (On Violence) Arendt refuses to define power as mere ability to do violence as some of the old authors she quotes has defined it to be. The book is written in times of cold war and during fears of mutually assured destruction. Arendt refuses to see violence as something that goes along with political power. She seems to think that the very fact of the presence of nuclear weapons makes the world a more violent place. There is no weapon humanity ever created that it didn’t use and all that. The best part is where she tries to define like sounding words – power, strength, authority etc. Violence Naturally, words themselves are mere symbols and you can use them to mean whatever you like but it enhances the ability to communicate better if each word described a unique abstract concept and every abstract concept has an exclusive word to signify

On Nationalism and ‘Imperialism: Part Two of The Origins of Totalitarianism’

(A review of’Imperialism: Part Two of the Origins of Totalitarianism’by Hannah Arendtfirst written on September 15, 2018) My one and the only objection is that it should have been named ‘Nationalism’ instead of ‘Totalitarianism’ because this book discusses various consequences (mostly negative) of Nationalism and imperialism was one just such consequence. Moreover even while studying imperialism, she is only interested in white men aspect of it – its effect on Europe. Moreover Arendt’s larger concern is studying origins of Totalitarianism which seems to me more connected with Nationalism than imperialism. Among consequences of Imperialism, she included are Imperialism, totalitarianism, refugee problems and wars (including two world wars). Imperialism Nationalism somehow continues to be thought of good when it is just a beautified name of narrow mindedness. Much like religion or racist ideologies, it is basically an act of limiting responsibility by creating a limited ‘we’ group based often on language, race or religion. It gives a false superiority complex- you are supposed to feel proud just because you belong to particular group (often people who are good for nothing else, chose these causes to take pride in). And a pride in belonging in such groups always comes along with a

On ‘Antisemitism: Part One of the Origins of Totalitarianism’

(A review ofAntisemitism: Part One of the Origins of Totalitarianism’by Hannah Arendtfirst written on September 15, 2018) antisemitism sidharth vardhan review analysis hannah arendt Arendt brings out a brief history of anti-Semitism with a special focus on the way it came to be used as a propaganda device by Nazis. There is much in this – like the argument that a wealthy section of society is tolerated by the rest only as long as they serve a function. And to be able to serve a function, power is needed. Some of the richer Jews (mostly bankers) were themselves first to accept the differentiation given to them by state. This differentiation attracted prejudice, first, when the customers of the bankers become middle class rather than upper class (middle class people take loan out of needs and won’t ever like bankers) and the stereotypes created because of a single family – Rothschilds. You can add to this, the conspiracy theories. Thus Nazis found a ready prejudice to take advantage of when they came into power. Hannah Arendt It is all very interesting but it isn’t as much hard hitting as other Arendt works I have read. May be because it is much

Of Svetlana Alexievich’s Zinky Boys

(A review of the book ‘Zinky Boys’,by Noble Laureate Svetlana AlexievichFirst written on November 3, 2018) “‘I cried when I read your article, but I shan’t read the whole book, because of an elementary sense of self-preservation. I’m not sure whether we ought to know so much about ourselves. Perhaps it’s just too frightening. It leaves a great void in my soul. You begin to lose faith in your fellow-man and fear him instead.’” From Svetlana Alexievich’s Zinky Boys This is the second book I have that is written by Svetlana Alexievich and her books really do make me wonder about why I read. On one hand, her books are about truth – and plain, ugly truth at that which needs to be told or it would be suppressed, and thus exactly the kind of books that should be read on the priority basis. On other hand, her books are so depressing – being full of accounts of lost and wasted lives; making one wonder whether there really is any point in reading them. Svetlana Alexievich Zinky boys sidharth vardhan review analysis Though not as depressing as Chernobyl diaries, this one is full of sad accounts of all those whose

Review of ‘Frankenstein in Baghdad’

(A review by ofFrankenstein in Baghdada novel by Ahmed Saadawishortlisted for International Man Booker 2018For English translation by Jonathan WrightFirst written on May 20, 2018) Shouldn’t it rather be called Frankenstein’s Monster? The book sure picks up the atmosphere of Iraq suffering from aftereffects of war and terrorism. The very idea of making a complete dead body out of parts of victims of bomb blasts which couldn’t be identified with their owner is something that could occur easily to someone living in Baghdad and, for whom, bombs are a daily occurrence. In fact, the characters who seem to be prospering the most are those gaining from ruins – one of them gets rich by buying old junk from those migrating out and other by buying or illegally occupying their properties. Then there is the fact that monster like Baghdad contains elements of various communities. Another element would be religion: “There were people who had survived many deaths in the time of the dictatorship only to find themselves face-to-face with a pointless death in the age of “democracy”—when, for example, a motorbike ran into them in the middle of the road. Believers lost their faith when those who had shared their beliefs and

Dying and the Death Sentence

(A review of Death Sentence, A novel (1948) by Maurice BlanchotFirst written on March 20, 2018) The first half is narrator talking about his dying wife, J. – who strangely looked more and more like a child closer she got to death and even came back to life after her first death once. J.’s reactions to her own approaching death. “Every minute stolen from solitude and fear was an inestimable boon for J. She fought with all her strength for one single minute: not with supplications, but inwardly, though she did not wish to admit it. Children are that way: silently, with the fervor of hopeless desire, they give orders to the world, and sometimes the world obeys them. The sickness had made a child of J.; but her energy was too great, and she could not dissipate it in small things, but only in great things, the greatest things.” Maurice Blanchot (Death Sentence) …..or narrator’s attitude towards her (or later as he tries to get over death) seem to justify the title. “The only difference, and it was a large one, was that I was living in proud intimacy with terror; I was too shallow to see the misery

The misery of Atonement – a review of Ian McEwan book

(A review of ‘Atonement’, a novel by Ian McEwanNominated for Booker Prize in 1998first written on October 25, 2013) “It was common enough, to see so much death and want a child.” Ian McEwan (Atonement) We each live in our own world – and worlds of children are so far simpler than those of grown-ups; the friction between these worlds allows chances for misunderstandings. McEwan, who seems to have a thing for misunderstandings, banks on them for the beautiful story. A still from the movie based on the book with the same name The number of coincidences in the first part could have looked objectionable in hands of some other author. Robbie suddenly finds his life thrown off the track and is made to bear punishment for a crime he never did – that must be how most of Europe have felt during second world war. A child’s innocent mistake destroys future of a young man. But scratch the surface there – was she as innocent as she claimed? Or was there malice, at least at subconscious level? She repents as she realizes her mistake, but the wrong done can never be corrected fully. It is so far easier to

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