The making of men and women
charles darwin: voyaging (Pimlico, £7.95) by Janet Browne succeeds in a difficult task. This biography of one of the most hotly-discussed men of the 19th-century is both meticulously researched as well as refreshing and readable. The personality which emerges is both convincing and very human, bewildered at the abuse and adulation directed at him and quite unable to see himself as an intellectual giant. The Victorian habit of boundless curiosity made “collecting” one of the most popular hobbies for boys, while creating passionate naturalists and earnest imperialists among the grown men. Browne shows how this context helped Darwin’s growth into piercing brilliance from the benign aimlessness of youth.
For Matrimonial purposes (HarperCollins, £6.99) by Kavita Daswani is one of the smarter among the breed of crossover novels now pouring out of both the desi and foreign press. Humorously neurotic, it tells the tale of a smart, intelligent and devotedly obedient Indian girl, torn between the enjoyment of her independent career in New York and the desperation to find a husband to satisfy her worried parents in Bombay. Daswani shows a deftness in plotting, and a lightness of touch in preserving the tone of gentle absurdity, which even the appearance of a humanized Darcy cannot spoil. Enjoyable froth.
a childhood in malabar: a memoir (Penguin, Rs 200) by Kamala Das, translated from the Malayalam by Gita Krishnankutty, is a fascinating reconstruction of childhood by a bilingual writer who has, over the years, acquired a devoted and large following. The preface is the key to the playful spirit and sparkle of the book: prompted by a psychoanalyst, Das recalls what she thinks is her earliest memory and starts looking for the actual circumstances surrounding it.
modern bodo short stories (Sahitya Akademi, Rs 50) translated by Joykanta Sarma suffers enormously from the poor standard of the translation. This is a pity, because the stories themselves promise interesting glimpses into the issues that are seen to affect Bodo social and domestic life most deeply. The volume is especially important, since written Bodo literature is very young, and the modern short story represents an important departure from traditional folk and oral forms. The stories in this volume seem to be using the new form to emphasize the weaknesses of Bodo society, very clearly in the hope of reform. All this will go to waste if the quality of translation does not improve.