The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Paperback Pickings

There will be a huge pyramid in heaven

pervez (HarperCollins, Rs 295) by Meher Pestonji is a novel that spans the period between the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the Gujarat carnage. With a great sensitivity, and some reasonably good writing, Pestonji traces the private and political maturing of Pervez, a fiercely secular Parsi whose marriage has failed. This is a deeply well-meaning book which brings over, from a journalistic career, social and political values, most of which are in crisis in contemporary India. But it does have sentences like, “Without protests the steaming communal cauldron would erupt into larger confabulations.” The author then goes on to describe her protagonist as “inwardly raging over the helplessness of civil society in the face of organised crime”. Laudable sentiments that might redeem Indian society, but perhaps not Indian fiction.

the corrections (Fourth Estate, £ 6.99) by Jonathan Franzen is a rather weighty bestseller which has been described in superlative terms all over the front and back covers. But blurbs are blurbs, and one quickly gets into a long novel set in one of the “gerontocratic” American suburbs. Enid and Alfred Lambert have three grown-up children. Alfred has Parkinson’s disease, and the novel ends with his death. The recognitions and revolutions undergone by the Lamberts, especially by Enid, make up the novel’s great bulk, and its claim to “greatness”. Lambent sentimentality — the hallmark of American popular culture — can be found here in dollops. Perfect for Hollywood schmalz — with Susan Sarandon as Enid. “She was glad, if nothing else, to have his body back. She’d always loved his size, his shape, his smell, and he was much more available now that he was restrained in a geri chair and unable to formulate coherent objections to being touched. He let himself be kissed and didn’t cringe if her lips lingered a little, he didn’t flinch if she stroked his hair.”

god on god (Penguin, Rs 195) by Scott MacGregor collects a series of in-depth interviews with god on just about everything upheld by a conservative, god-fearing Christian society. Justifying the ways of god to man has occasionally produced great epics. But MacGregor is not quite a Milton, and ends up writing a series of happy-clappy “Jehovah’s Witnesses” type catechisms with a god who is anti-abortion, approves of sex only when it is practised by a man and a woman within wedlock, and would thoroughly endorse Operation Enduring Freedom or Infinite Justice or Smoke ’Em Out or whatever it is called at the moment. The Devil must be fought, and laws may be broken in order to do so. There is a description of heaven which reminds one of the futuristic glass pyramid at the Louvre: “It is huge — almost unimaginably huge. It is in the shape of a pyramid, with a base of nearly six million square kilometres and an apex over 2000 kilometres high...there is a lot of open parkland.” Penguin could perhaps rein in a bit when it comes to such epiphanies.

god’s mischief (Penguin, Rs 275) by M. Mukundan is Prema Jayakumar’s English translation of a best-selling Malayalam novel written by a reputed and prolific contemporary Malayalam writer. The setting is idyllic Mayyazhi, after its French colonizers have left. There is of course the ghost of Malgudi everywhere. This is an important fictional exploration of colonialism. “The sound of the siren from the ship that carried the whites away had fallen on her ears like a scream of despair. Father Alphonse slept near her with his mouth slightly open. His long hair, which resembled copper wire, lay awry. That night when the history of the land was being rewritten, he had slept peacefully like a small child. The children of Mayyazhi gathered round him in his sleep.”

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