Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Aranyak [1976]

Much admired Bengali author Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay – part of the so-called ‘Bandopadhyay troika’ along with his contemporaries Tarashankar and Manik– is best known for Chander Pahar, on account of it being a hugely popular adventure tale, and his Pather Panchali / Aparajito combine, as they were adapted by Satyajit Ray as part of his internationally renowned Apu Trilogy. However, when it comes to many Bibhutibhushan aficionados, his semi-autobiographical novel Aranyak (loosely translated as ‘Of the Forest’) is generally considered his best work. The highly episodic, semi-fictionalized memoir, written in the form of journal entries, was based on his experiences of managing the enormous estates of a Zamindar in the state of Bihar over a period of 6 years. His task, apart from estate management and collections, revolved around allocating lands for converting dense vegetation into arable lands, leading to revenue enhancement for the estate. Hence one key dichotomy that the author faced, and thus formed a major theme, revolved around promoting deforestation while inherently being an ardent nature-lover – a facet about himself that he comes to realize while moving to this place from Calcutta. Though initially he finds himself at odds with the godforsaken locations covered with hills and forests, and inhabited with poverty-stricken tribals, given his urban background, he eventually starts falling in love with the place. Consequently, that seeped into his intricate description of the wilderness, and also his portrayals of the people he gets to meet there – the descendants of a former king who now live in penury, a naturalist whose mission is to keep increasing the forest’s bio-diversity, a young guy who’s learned the art of various tribal dance forms, a man who intends to spread learning even if there are no takers for it, a local poet who loves his vocation even if he’s not very good in it, a money-lender who doesn’t keep track of his wealth et al. The book was laced with nostalgia, pathos and romanticism, which made this an earthy, humorous and emotionally involving work.

Author: Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay
Genre: Semi-Autobiographical Novel/Memoir
Language: Bengali
Country: India

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

As I Lay Dying [1930]

Published a year after The Sound and the Fury, Faulkner was said to have written As I Lay Dying over a course of 6 weeks during the wee hours of midnight to 4 AM while working at a power plant during the day time, and didn’t change a word of what he’d written while editing. Considered by many amongst the 2 or 3 greatest works in his oeuvre, and included by the likes of Modern Library, New York Times, The Guardian, etc. in their lists of 100 Greatest Books of 20th Century, this Southern Gothic novel was, to use the Nobel-laureate author’s words, “tour de force” on modernist writing, and comprised of complex thematic and stylistic choices. A road novel in its most crystallized form, the book chronicles the journey of the impoverished Bundren family, comprising of dim-witted father and his five children, traveling with the body of his recently deceased wife in a coffin, in order to bury her amidst her kin at Jefferson in Mississippi. Their odyssey through the cotton fields of American South, was as much physical in terms of the hardships and catastrophes faced along the way, as it was psychologically revelatory about the characters, and their internal and external conflicts. Faulkner employed the pioneering technique of multiple perspectives to drive the narrative, and to present divergent motives and points of view in a mix of conversational and stream of consciousness modes. Each of the novel’s 59 chapters have been narrated by a character, and largely by members of the Bundren family – 19 of the chapters by Darl, the 2nd eldest of the deceased matriarch’s 4 sons, and the most developed among all the characters. Themes ranged from familial conflict, religious guilt, effects of poverty, undoing of uncontrolled passion, transformative effects of a journey, etc., while the multiple narrative voices, told in a manner to reflect the characters’ accents, development and state of mind, acted as pieces to a jigsaw that slowly came together as the leisurely paced story, requiring considerable investment by the reader, progressed.

Author: William Faulkner
Genre: Family Drama/Road Novel/Modernist Literature/Stream of Consciousness/Southern Literature
Language: English
Country: US