Monday, December 26, 2016

The Human Stain [2000]

Philip Roth provided an extraordinary display to his stylistic breadth and political consciousness with The American Trilogy where he explored the complex dimensions of post-War American history. However, where American Pastoral and I Married a Communist were largely focused in that they were centered on the Vietnam War protests and McCarthy Witch-Hunts, respectively, the scope was stunningly broad in The Human Stain where he touched upon such diverse topics as racism (and its evolving nuances over the decades), the dichotomy between personal and social identity, and the damaging scars left behind by America’s involvements in one bad war after another. Further, while Roth’s literary alter-ego Nathan Zuckerman’s role was largely passive in the earlier two novels, re-constructing the lives and times of their protagonists, viz. Swede Levov and Ira Ringold, here he also played an active part in propelling the narrative forward. Septuagenarian Coleman Silk, a revered professor of classics and former dean at Athena College (the same place where E.I. Lonoff was a faculty in the 1st Zuckerman book, The Ghost Writer), suddenly became a pariah when he’s accused of racism, and more so when, after his wife’s unanticipated death, gets embroiled in an affair with Faunia Farley, a 34-year old illiterate janitor with a tragic past. Zuckerman, who’d enjoyed a brief period of friendship with him, starts putting the pieces together by conjecturing upon the various players involved – Coleman’s children, Faunia’s emotionally scarred former husband, and most interestingly, a fast-rising French émigré who develops a rather surreal tussle with Silk – and also goes deep into Coleman’s past unknown to nearly everyone who knows him, and unravels his radical act of jumping across the seemingly insurmountable racial line through his conversion from an African-American to a white Jew. Intricately structured as a memoir and a multi-dimensional political history, with elements of investigative reporting and psycho-analysis thrown in, this stately, ironic and tragic novel might just remain as the most ambitious and powerful work in this gripping and turbulent trilogy.

Author: Philip Roth
Genre: Drama/Political Drama/Bildungsroman
Language: English
Country: US

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Ministry of Fear [1943]

Greene often classified his books into “novels” and “entertainers”, and he’d written one of each category set on devastation of the Blitz in London. The End of the Affair, which belonged to the former category, remains one of his most well-known works, while The Ministry of Fear, sandwiched between two of his other most well-known “novels”, viz. The Power and the Glory and The Heart of the Matter, with its heady dose of passion, intrigue and betrayals, distinctively belonged to the latter. However, even when he composed fast and engaging narrative-driven entertainers, the thinking novelist in him – for whom dilemmas, anxieties and existential crises of the 20th century man, the moral bankruptcy and intrinsically untrustworthy nature of nation states, and the inherent hypocrisy and dubious ambiguities of nationalism and patriotism – was always at play; this running thematic strand was regularly evident here as well, even if it never reached the dizzying heights of the likes of The Quiet American and The Human Factor where, as in this, international political conspiracy formed a central aspect of the storyline. Arthur Rowe, a rather boring and straightforward man living a staid and uneventful life, is thrown into the dead-end when he ends up winning a delicious cake at a charity fête that he wasn’t supposed to win. From an attempt on his life to being forced to go on the lam upon a murder, from encountering amnesia to experiencing suicidal impulses, from trusting the wrong guys to falling for an Austrian refugee – he life becomes a series of unsavoury and unanticipated shock-developments as he unwittingly finds himself enmeshed in a Nazi plot to smuggle a microfilms containing state secrets. Even a lesser Greene manages to keep one on tenterhooks with gripping storytelling, gray characters, moody atmosphere and pervading fatalism, and this was no exception; it also had a strong cinematic quality about it – no wonder Fritz Lang turned it into a movie one year later.

Author: Graham Greene
Genre: Thriller/Political Thriller/Crime Thriller/Spy Novel/War
Language: English
Country: UK