Sunday, September 8, 2013

3 short reviews

A Pale View of the Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro

Ishiguro's A Pale View of the Hills, despite being his debut, is no less an emotional tale than
his other better known works. It is a delicately woven tapestry of several themes, stitched together by the gift of Ishiguro's masterful but tender story-telling.
Through the eyes of Etsuko, we see a war-ravaged Japan trying to rise from its ashes - torn between the difficult choice of shunning past ideologies which lured it down the path of devastation or holding on to the frail sentimentality of traditions. The narrative switches back and forth between Etsuko's present where she is merely drifting through life in England with a daughter she barely knows and her memories of one particular summer in Japan when she came across a dysfuctional mother-daughter duo. We see women in a changing society who slowly begin to assert themselves, while a passive and pregnant Etsuko merely observes. It's almost as if Etsuko's life itself is an allegory of her homeland during turbulent times, about to undergo a major paradigm shift.
A story of loss, pain, self assertion and the aftermath of war.

4 stars out of 5.

An Image of Africa by Chinua Achebe

Presently, An Image of Africa has 49 ratings and 3 reviews (including mine) on Goodreads.
While Hopes and Impediments: Selected Essays, a compilation of essays by Achebe which contains this famous piece along with a few others, has 109 ratings and 8 reviews.

Which means this particular essay is as unknown and ignored as Heart of Darkness is universally read and worshipped.
This does not however indicate that Achebe has been given the cold shoulder by Goodreaders. (Oh no not at all, he is very popular instead.) 
Merely this that, either most people on Goodreads are not too intent on reading essays or not specifically interested in an African writer's denouncement of a most revered piece of literature written by a European. 
Even a Google search wasn't able to cough up links to coherent reviews of Achebe's essay than a meagre 2 or 3, one of which was posted on a UK based website, which understandably enough, shot down all of Achebe's claims in the same way as the rest of the world may dismiss a threat of nuclear war made by North Korea. 

Sharp, precise, thorough and keen in its deconstruction of Conrad's Heart of Darkness as a piece of mainstream literature fraught with racist implications, An Image of Africa does not only seek to label Conrad as a 'bloody racist' as the description says. (for your information, reader, he uses the word 'thoroughgoing' instead of 'bloody')
Achebe also brings to our notice, the often overlooked aspects of this literary fiction that is read by millions and taught as coursework for literature students worldwide, especially in American universities. Among the numerous critiques of Heart of Darkness, not one exists which points out Conrad's blatant dehumanization of the inhabitants of Africa as a manifestation of an obstinate white sense of superiority. 
Which is why Achebe took it upon himself to write one. 

"A Conrad student informed me in Scotland that Africa is merely a setting for the disintegration of the mind of Mr. Kurtz.

Which is partly the point. Africa as setting and backdrop which eliminates the African as human factor. Africa as a metaphysical battlefield devoid of all recognizable humanity, into which the wandering European enters at his peril. Can nobody see the preposterous and perverse arrogance in thus reducing Africa to the role of props for the break-up of one petty European mind? But that is not even the point. The real question is the dehumanization of Africa and Africans which this age-long attitude has fostered and continues to foster in the world. And the question is whether a novel which celebrates this dehumanization, which depersonalizes a portion of the human race, can be called a great work of art."

I think I ended up highlighting so much while reading that it would have sufficed to just highlight the entire printed text or leave it alone and consider the whole thing highlighted, anyway. 
Achebe's line of reasoning and thought is impossible to slight and makes one see Conrad's much vaunted literary masterpiece in a new light altogether.
But another reading of Heart of Darkness is needed before I can extol the infallibility of Achebe's arguments with more conviction.

4 stars out of 5.

The Razor's Edge by Somerset Maugham

In a nutshell, this contains Maugham's indictment of the culture of materialism, upper class
snobbery and the story of a man's spiritual awakening and search for the true meaning of life. He has analyzed the opposite ends of the spectrum of human existence and juxtaposed themes of kindness and human goodwill along with the basest of human feelings such as contempt and jealousy in a way truly characteristic of a master of the art. But some portions were unnecessarily drawn out. And I felt Maugham's deliberate reveal of himself as a character in the story and as the narrator, didn't add anything to the narrative and instead mellowed down its intensity to a certain extent.

3.5 stars out of 5. 

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  1. Great reviews! It's my first time hearing of that Achebe. Thanks for that:)

    1. Yes I've been meaning to tell you about Achebe's essay, Rowena. Do read it. It will give you a lot of insight into Heart of Darkness. Hope to hear your thoughts on it when you are done with it.

    2. I feel I need to re-read Heart of Darkness; I don't think I gave it a chance all those years ago.

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