Sidharth Vardhan

The righteous ways of ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’

(A review of ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’, a novel by Anne BronteReview first written on May 20, 2019) Of course, it is an excellent book and was definitely ahead of its time – to the point that it aroused much criticism in times it was written. The fact of a woman walking out on her husband must itself have been sensational during those times. I am really curious about the lives of Bronte sisters. I could really like to read a common biography of them or see a Doctor Who episode based on them. All that said, I am gonna focus on why I didn’t like this one as much as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Part of the reason why I have avoided reading ‘The Tennant of Windfell Hall’ this long is that I had read Agnes Grey and was worried that the protagonist here would be just as righteous. It is one of the most dislikable qualities a person can have in my opinion. Now there are two reasons I hate righteousness. First, righteous people will cause themselves unnecessary suffering. Helen, for example, will suffer gladly for this righteousness. First, she chooses to stick around with a

Of Han Kang’s ‘Human Acts’

(A review of ‘Human Acts’a novel by Han Kang) “I still remember the moment when my gaze fell upon the mutilated face of a young woman, her features slashed through with a bayonet. Soundlessly, and without fuss, some tender thing deep inside me broke. Something that, until then, I hadn’t realised was there.” Han Kang (Human Acts) A semi-fictional account of unnecessarily violent supression of a student uprising in Han Kang’s home town, Gwangju, South Korea in 1980 through point of view of inter-related characters. I guess it would have been brutal to expect another ‘The Vegetarian’ from her but this is beautiful in its own way – showing what it means having to live through such incidences – how it changes the way one sees the world: “Is it true that human beings are fundamentally cruel? Is the experience of cruelty the only thing we share as a species? Is the dignity that we cling to nothing but self-delusion, masking from ourselves the single truth: that each one of us is capable of being reduced to an insect, a ravening beast, a lump of meat? To be degraded, slaughtered – is this the essential of humankind, one which history

Mouthful of Birds – a review

(A review of ‘Mouthful of Birds’,a collection of short stories by Samantha Schweblin long-listed for International Booker in 2019 for English translation by Megan McDowell) Most of these short stories have a sort of nightmarish qualities about them, much like another Intentional Booker nominee from author, Fever Dreams (but ‘Fever Dreams’ had a far better execution IMO and, to be honest, should have won International Booker that year). Sometimes the nightmarish quality is due to environment or because of the perspective of a child narrator while others really have a somewhat Kafka-like dream-realism (unpredictable sequence of surreal events) with an which is the thing I enjoy most about this author. The unease one feels during a nightmare is common to the narrators of all the good stories in here. ‘Headlights’, ‘Butterflies’, ‘Preserves”, ‘toward the civilisation’ etc are some of the best ones. There a few less enjoyable stories (the titular story, incidentally, was one of those I enjoyed less), but the 5-star ones are too difficult to ignore. A bad sample, bad not because it is a bad story, but because it doesn’t have this nightmarish quality, can be read here.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead – a review

(A review of ‘Drive your Pow over the bones of the dead’by Olga Tokarczuk short listed for International Booker 2019 for English translation by Antonia Lloyd-Jones ) There can be spoilers in here for it is supposed to be a whodunit, though the whodunit is so painfully that calling it a whodunit seems to be a crime against humanity. This book employs a theme that is close to me and seems to be explored more and more often by writers worldwide – that of cruelty towards animals and how it has become ingrained in our lifestyle and how little a thought we spare to it. Anna Sewell’s ‘Black Beauty’ is the first novel I remember that explores this theme and you could see it reflected in a lot of works of Coetzee (specifically ‘Elizabeth Costello’) and most recently Han Kang’s ‘The Vegetarian’ (Elizabeth Costello looks at it in more logical way, while The Vegetarian is all pathos). Much of what haunts these authors can be summed up in a single quote: ‘Auschwitz begins wherever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks: they’re only animals.’ “Auschwitz start when someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks they are just animals” Theodor W. Adorno (btw a much

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,

Of White Things

(A review of Han Kang’s novel ‘The White Book’, the English translation by Deborah Smith was shortlisted for International Man BookerFirst written on March 15, 2019) “In the spring, when I decided to write about white things the first thing I did was to make a list. Swaddling bands. Newborn gown. Salt. Snow. Ice. Moon. Rice. Waves. Yulan. White bird. “Laughing Whitely”. Blank paper. White dog. White hair. Shroud. With each item I wrote down, a ripple of agitation ran through me. I felt that yes, I needed to write this book and that the process of writing it would be transformative, would itself transform, into something like white ointment applied to a swelling, like gauze laid over a wound …… I step recklessly into time I have not yet lived, into this book I have not yet written. Han Kang (The White Book) Warsaw After World War II Warsaw Now Han Kang is a genius. I could give her a noble prize. This book sits somewhere in the subset between a novel and the act of writing it and a collection of prose-poems and between truth and imagination. The fragments are themed on white objects as the author is

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

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

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

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