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review 2014-08-27 09:46
A young man returns to his home
The Return of the Native - Thomas Hardy,Alexander Theroux

This was the last book on the English I curriculum and while I am undecided as to whether I actually read it (namely because when you get to that end of the year the last books on the reading list tend to be the ones that get dumped in favour of study for the pending exams) I did have a tutor that would throw students out of the class if they had not read the novel, and he seemed to have a sixth sense in knowing whether they had read it or not (and while this was in the days before Wikipedia, or Sparknotes, though there were still Cliff Notes available).

Anyway, after reading a synopsis of this book my memories do come back to me, and the boredom that I encountered upon reading the synopsis pretty much reflects the boredom that I faced when I was reading the book. Okay, maybe it is one of those classic pieces of literature, described as one of Hardy's most powerful novels, but, to be honest, it was not really something that interested me. Also, the Adelaide University English Department, when they deconstructed a text, at that time had a habit of putting me off the book, despite the fact that years later I have come to appreciate, and even accept, the nature of deconstruction.

Now, since we had read a number of books about natives during the semester, such as Beat not the Bones, Things fall apart, and The Heart of Darkness, I was expecting that a book that carried the title of 'Return of the Native' was going to be a rollicking adventure story about a native man, such as this guy:





having been captured by some evil slavers and taken abroad, manages to escape from his captivity, and after numerous harrowing adventures, returns to his home village, much like this one:





However, not surprising (considering we were not studying such books in the course) it had nothing to do with indigenous populations, but rather about a Welshman who lived in Paris, looking much like this 19th Century English Gentleman:




returning to his home in Wales, which probably looks like this place:




though I am only speculating here because I can't remember that much about the novel, except that my expectations of a rip-roaring adventure novel were foully dashed.

However, I did mention above something about a member of an indigenous tribe returning to his home village, and I suspect that this is why this novel ended up falling onto the English I reading list: namely because it is about an indigenous man, in this case a Welshman, returning to his home village, which happens to be in Wales. Maybe this is an example of post-colonial literature in that what Hardy is doing is demonstrating to us that natives are not necessarily coloured people living in societies that are not as technologically advanced as ours, but can also apply to the average Englishman since they are technically indigenous to England (though when you go back about a thousand years you do discover that England itself had been colonised – in fact it was colonised a number times by a wide ranging group of people including the Danes, the Vikings, the Saxons, and of course the Normans).

The other idea is a concept known as 'Nativism', which is something that came out of our American History lectures. That concept applied to the white population of the United States and started to develop in the mid-nineteenth century. While the traditional native Americans were being attacked, assaulted, pushed off their land, and carolled into reservations, the settlers, many who had been born in American and had come from families whose fathers went back to the early colonists, began to see themselves as being distinctly American. Since their roots had come out of the American continent, and the American culture, they were themselves becoming natives of America. As such not only were the original inhabitants being physically invaded, their culture and identity were being absorbed by the 'new natives'.

While we were not studying anthropology in English (simply because that is a completely different subject in and of itself) what we were doing was studying the literary responses to a number of these changes. In this novel we have the white man assuming the mantle of the native, and Wales assuming the mantle of the native soil. Thus it is not an adventure story about a black slave who had escaped and finally made it home, because in many cases his village, and in fact his culture, were unlikely to exist any more (as was demonstrated in the film Amistad), but rather it is about the new native returning to his home town, a town that still exists within a culture that still thrives.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1037727485
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review 2014-05-28 06:12
reading along
A Twentieth-Century Literature Reader: Texts and Debates - Suman Gupta,David Johnson

This book of extracts and critical essays aims to illuminate and contextualise important twentieth century memes such as classicism, Marxism, feminism and the post-colonial as they were played out in the literature of (and occasionally from outside) the European tradition. The texts are all authentic material - the editors have only added a brief note to introduce each one with minimal commentary, so the reader shouldn't expect to be spoon-fed! This book was written for an Open University course, and is meant to stimulate critical consciousness and raise starting points for debate.

Having read the book through, I am still re-reading sections of it and trying to respond to them by writing, especially as I encounter relevant longer texts. The reviews (one by George Orwell) are particularly helpful for developing a sense of the histories and societies permeated by C20th literature, and there are some excellent essays, such as Abdulrazak Gurnah's onImagining the Postcolonial Writer.

For someone like me, trying to teach myself literary criticism, this is a very helpful work; I keep coming back to it, not for reference but out of a keen-ness to chew on an idea and take it further than I could before. It's nice to find a 'textbook' that understands what a mature learning process needs to drive it forward: mind-as-searchlight, not as-bucket.

My thoughts on Virginia Woolf's lecture The Leaning Tower 

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review 2014-02-17 14:22
How to destroy community
Last Man in Tower - Aravind Adiga

Adiga's constellation of Vishram Society inhabitants are well furnished with religious backgrounds, family histories, personalities and motives, but efforts to foresee the twists in the tale are foiled by human unpredictability. Heroes and villains reveal unexpected facets throughout; the murderer finds a conscience; the friend tears up the token and changes sides; the loving mother goes absolutely all the way for her disabled son...

On reflection, I've come back to thinking how it's structures that matter; what structures enable fellow-feeling, what kinds of structure erode it? How does imperialist capitalism atomise people and colonise their will?

Behind these overlapping wires she saw banyan trees; all of which were hemmed in by the fencing; except for one greying ancient, whose aerial roots, squirming through barbed wire and broken glass, dripped down the wall like primordial ooze until their bright growing tips, nearly touching the pavement, brushed against a homeless family cooking rice in the shade; and with each root-tip that had beaten the barbed wire the old banyan said: nothing can stop a living thing that wants to be free.
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review 2014-02-01 21:16
A World of Difference: An Anthology of Short Stories from Five Continents - Bernard Malamud,Raymond Carver,Roxana Robinson,V.S. Naipaul,Rohinton Mistry,Nadine Gordimer,Alan Sillitoe,Amy Tan,Mavis Gallant,Peter Carey,William Trevor,Ana Menéndez,Lorna Goodison,Romesh Gunesekera,Lynda Prescott,Zadie Smith

An outstanding collection, inspiring me to read more of the work of many of the authors featured:

Nadine Gordimer - The Ultimate Safari

A tale of asylum-seeking in Mozambique from the point of view of a young child, whose unworldliness enables Gordimer to draw a painful contrast between the lives of African people and the experience of tourists visiting the sub-Saharan area

Amy Tan - The Joy Luck Club

This story was a breath of fresh air for me and I fully intend to seek out the original collection. Tan's most famous story is truly original, providing a rare and deep insight into Chinese cultural attitudes and history, and the intergenerational tensions engendered by migration.

Ana Menendez - In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd

Menendez fleshes this simple series of vignettes with rich and poignant detail, the precious material of cultural memory. The perpetually frustrated hope of a diaspora in long-term exile is balanced with humour and the imperfect compensations of life in America

Roxana Robinson - Mr Sumarsono

Robinson tells the simple tale of a visiting diplomat from the viewpoint of the well-meaning but vulgar and ignorant hostess's young daughter, who is disgusted by her mother's behaviour. Mr Sumarsono is angelic and oblivious, and his vision purges all impurities from the hosts kindness. The transformative potential of cross-cultural meetings is richly hinted at in this clever and finely crafted story.

Bernard Malamud - The Last Mohican

Malamud's protagonist's experience is full of delicious novelty, and the deeper resonances are many, reaching into complex collective notions of fellowship, shared history and responsibility.

Alan Silitoe - Pit Strike

The first story I have read by Silitoe, who relates this unusual anecdote in a refreshingly unembellished style, while the scriptural leanings of the protagonist give his actions a stylish tone of mythical heroism

V.S Naipaul - One Out of Many

I first read this with In a Free State and it's made an indelible impression. Naipaul is masterful in telling the incisive tale of servitude transported, giving each character due measure of inherent decency, self-interest and flawed humanity. The uncomfortable meeting of worlds is all the more resonant because stories from the point of view of servants are so unusual. Over and over I was confronted with my own privilege and prejudice, and forced to think again. It's also a radical story of emancipation and readjustment, entirely without utopian illusions.

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review 2014-01-28 07:31
Flowing to freedom
A Grain of Wheat - Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

A Grain of Wheat centres a political narrative about the struggle for independence and liberation in Kenya; about rebellion against British imperialism, and on this level it is searing, laying bare the injustice from the point of view of a richly varied cast of rural Kenyan people. Ngugi draws on Conrad to nuance the idealistic, but cold and inhuman character of the white DO, Thompson. He gives space to the character of each of the people in the village, revealing their motives in all their ambiguity and mystery.

The book shifts its tone from the magnified detail of the psychological novel to the broader framing of folk-anecdote and the rhythmic transmission of oral tradition, addressing the reader as an unidentified 'I', encompassing the village and sinking, a polymorphous identity, into the crowd. This innovative fluidity is refreshing to my spirit and allows an unusually rich and multifaceted emotional resonance to build. Often phlegmatic, the narrative gathers force and power as it patiently traces each person's tributary of recall to the communal estuary.

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