Book review | Fantasy beats autofiction, but “magical realism” is beaten by facts
This book could have – and perhaps should – have been called “A Defense of Fantasy”. It is an eloquent, erudite, and, in part, surprisingly informative defense of all forms of imaginative, or rather imagined, fantasy.
Through essays, lectures, speeches and tributes to deceased friends, these themes of the imagination in writing and art emerge, the dominant theme being a defense of its own favorite fictional genre of ‘magical realism. “. I don’t think Salman likes the term and insists that the magic, the legacy that contemporary writers, or at least those of a slightly earlier generation, have been bequeathed by the legends and epics of all nations. of the planet, it is the rabbit hole to reality.
Salman argues that today’s post promotes the revealing, racially, sexually, and culturally-situated autobiography and quotes several black American writers (none of whom, I apologize, I have read) who draw inspiration from or portray their own lives in their novels without the fancy inventions that the school of “magical realism” has revived in the past. His assessment, while he gives us no summary or description of the themes or stories of these writers, is complete – perhaps admitting that there are many fictional vehicles that tell the truth.
There is ample evidence in Salman’s career, with all the scintillating prizes and accolades, with the “fatwa” which VS Naipaul cruelly alluded to as “the harshest form of literary criticism”, and the sometimes obnoxious reviews. of his work (even that great book in, say, the British newspaper Observer) to claim that his work is “pot”. You love him or you hate him.
(I took the liberty of coining the term by imitating the puns Salman said he used to play with his friend and support Christopher Hitchens).
The “enemies” will be forced to admit that drawing inspiration from the epics, fables and parables of the Thousand and One Nights, Panchatantra, Beowolf de Götterdämmerung is perfectly legitimate, but they may wonder if the resulting constructions are up to the task of fiction – to what fiction owes to “languages of truth”.
Consider the essay in which Salman, writing about the “hijras” of India, begins with a scene from John Irving’s book A Son of the Circus in which a surgeon who is not a surgeon cuts, without administering anesthesia. , penis and testicles. of a willing male to transform him into a “hermaphrodite” or initiate him to belong to “another sex”. Irving’s fiction is appallingly graphic and may have been the recreation of a sought-after play. My own questions to a renowned urethra genital consultant about the Hijra clans that I saw as a child roaming the streets of India resulted in a different story. The Hijras, according to this medical scientist, are not “hermaphrodites” anyway. They are “cryptorchids” – males born with penises, but as they grow, the deviating bony structures in their crotches crush their testes and prevent them from falling and growing. Therefore, in early adolescence, they manifest secondary male and female characteristics triggered by the body producing male and female hormones – beard and breasts and impaired skeletal development. In the West, this deviation in bone structure can be and is easily detected and rectified by nurses and doctors who watch baby boys and release their testicles, so that there are no hijras stalking marriages and marriages. traffic lights in London, New York and the rest.
These poor cryptorchids, delivered to the Hijra clans by parents who are in any case poor and even peasants at the start of their adolescence, lead a miserable life of beggars and prostitutes. To transform this phenomenon of tragic degradation of a society, which should but does not provide adequate medical care for children, into “magical realism” is, for some (me too, yaar!) Unacceptable.
Salman’s essay is not indifferent to the hijras and traces the structure of their social existence and calls for some attention to the risks they face from HIV and AIDS. It’s John Irving who sacrifices the truth to fictional sensationalism – and some readers confuse it with the truth.
Salman deals at length in an essay on book-to-film adaptations. He finds David Lean’s adaptation of EM Forster’s A Passage to India absurd and awkward, like me, but he forgives him for giving the world Lawrence of Arabia and, for my money, Doctor Zhivago. He doesn’t venture any illuminating theory of adaptation from one form to another, and while telling us about his own Midnight’s Children adaptation to the stage, says nothing about Deepa Mehta’s film of the same novel. Since he wrote this film adaptation and it wasn’t a blockbuster movie to say the least, a reflection from his insightful mind on what went wrong would have been illuminating.
It is not the function of a critic to criticize what he wants to read. The essays and speeches are interspersed with information about Salman’s life as a child in Bombay (this is how he insists on remembering – he doesn’t approve of “Mumbai”) and his experience in the city. racism in Rugby Public School. There are glimpses or confessions of his progress in becoming the writer he always wanted to be. And then, after the recollections and words of deceased friends such as Hitchens and Harold Pinter and a panegyric endorsement from writers such as Philip Roth and notes from his acquaintance with him, there are the candid pieces about the writers submitted to the tyrannical silence, censored, imprisoned and death in China, Russia, Turkey and now in previously liberal India.
In an essay titled “Osama bin Laden (Fish Be On Him!)”, Salman attacks the hypocrisy of Pakistani politics which supports terrorism while taking billions of US dollars to supposedly fight it.
Salman states in several of these articles that he is not just a defender but a militant activist for free speech. He is clearly, in all his attitudes and accomplishments, against the denial of free speech and in favor of voices that have been overlooked and suppressed. It’s a courageous and laudable position, but it doesn’t say what he thinks about the outcry against, for example, JK Rowling’s opinion that transgender women aren’t really women. Germaine Greer also has similar controversial views. Should they, in the interest of free speech that Salman so ardently defends, be heard and challenged through argument rather than censorship? A regrettable silence on this subject. I would have liked to know.
In his words: “I’m just a professional writer, which means I don’t blog and try to make money for everything I write.”