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Rachel-K
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First Impressions

Please use this thread to begin discussing your early impressions as you dive into the novel. No spoilers, please!
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libretto
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Re: First Impressions

In the first four pages the author has already set the stage of waiting and loss; of things coming apart. Pg4, paragraph 8, "They sipped and ate, all of existence passed over by nonexistence, the gate leading nowhere, and they watched the tea spill copious ribbony curls of vapor, watched their breath join the mist slowly twisting and turning, twisting and turning.

I can almost hear Yeats reciting THE SECOND COMING in the backgroud:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart: the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Cheryl, aka Libetto
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Rachel-K
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Re: First Impressions

Cheryl,

Oh thanks for bringing Yeats into the conversation right away! I had the impression of lazy indolence from this scene--especially contrasted with the cook's movement, but I love how closely this language mirrors the Yeats--and how perfectly that particular poem hangs over the arch of what happens thru the novel.


I think there is extraordinary poetry in the novel, and actually thought most often of James Joyce-- another post-colonial writer, dealing on every page with politics on the most intimate and confusing level.

Funny that we open with Sai reading a National Geographic while sitting in front of a mountain which most of us might only be familiar with through such a magazine.
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IBIS
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Re: First Impressions

I loved the irony of Sai reading National Geographic... the issues that are very sumptuously bound in leather... when everything else in the house is becoming derelict and uncared for.

IBIS
IBIS

"I am a part of everything that I have read."
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libretto
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Re: First Impressions

Hi Ibis and Rachel

Yes there is the constant juxtaposition of the tawdry and the elegant, the beauty and the brutality, the comic and the sad.

I didn't think of James Joyce before; but, yes, there is the same stream of consciousness, the sense of ennui and yet the wit and playful humor amiss the violence.

Chapter 6 paragraph 1 "So, as Sai waited at the gate,the cook had come...,blowing on a whistle to warn away jackals, the two cobras,and the local thief, Gobbo, who robbed all the residents of Kalimpong in rotation and had a brother in the police to protect him."--I love this kind of poking fun at all the vagrancies of living; that says so this is life , now what are you going to do with it.

Cheryl
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Merryworld
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Re: First Impressions

So far, I'm enjoying the book. Ms. Desai seems to be getting a lot of story lines going at once and I'm wondering if and how they will all converge.

Her descriptions of New York restaurants resonated with me. We have a favorite Japanese restaurant and the owner and main sushi chef are Chinese (he once told my husband that the Japanese are unimaginative when it comes to sushi). The guys out front doing the sushi are all Asian, but the back kitchen where all the cooked dishes are prepared is manned by Guatemalans.

She seems to have a very jaded view of the world and I'm not yet sure whether things are going to end nicely or very badly indeed.
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Rachel-K
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Re: First Impressions

Yes, others have mentioned this jadedness/pessimism too. What should we make of this?

It is striking to me because the novel--the language, the great indulgence of detail, the wild bits of stories--has so much beauty and energy that I have trouble classifying it as jaded, but it IS true that to read about Biju is exhausting because he is so unfairly miserable. To read about the revolutionary kids feels heartbreakingly shallow and bitter. To read about the judge going from somewhat anxious nondescript kid with high hopes into a brutally self-hating and self-important jerk is awful.

Yet, why does the novel still feel so full of playfulness and laughter?
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IBIS
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Re: First Impressions



rkubie wrote:
Yet, why does the novel still feel so full of playfulness and laughter?




Some characters are full of playfullness, and made me laugh out loud. The cook for example is written with wonderful playfulness. As another post wrote: "...the cook had come...blowing on a whistle to warn away jackals, the two cobras,and the local thief, Gobbo, who robbed all the residents of Kalimpong in rotation and had a brother in the police to protect him."

Along with this playfulness, Kiran Desai has focused a very skeptical, and sometimes humorous, scrutiny of the West's consumer-driven multiculturalism.

She is very tongue-in-cheek when she talks about Lola, whose clothesline sags "under a load of Marks and Spencer's panties". Lola insists that there is a "new England, a completely cosmpolitan society" where "chicken tikka masala has replaced fish and chips as the # 1 takeout dinner."

Also Lola mentions her own daughter, a BBC radio newsreader, "doesn't have a chip on her shoulder." The "sanitized elegance" of Lola's daughter, British-accented voice, is "triumphant over any horrors the world might thrust upon others."

This is hilarious, yet also eye-opening!

IBIS
IBIS

"I am a part of everything that I have read."
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bentley
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Re: First Impressions



rkubie wrote:
Cheryl,

Oh thanks for bringing Yeats into the conversation right away! I had the impression of lazy indolence from this scene--especially contrasted with the cook's movement, but I love how closely this language mirrors the Yeats--and how perfectly that particular poem hangs over the arch of what happens thru the novel.


I think there is extraordinary poetry in the novel, and actually thought most often of James Joyce-- another post-colonial writer, dealing on every page with politics on the most intimate and confusing level.

Funny that we open with Sai reading a National Geographic while sitting in front of a mountain which most of us might only be familiar with through such a magazine.




I remember my grandmother and grandfather though of humble means subscribed to National Geographic for decades. They loved the magazines, the photos, the faraway places I guess. I agree with you that Sai herself is probably dreaming of far away places herself. I love the texture of the language and the visual imagery as I begin this novel. Her mountain could have been featured in one of the releases.

I loved the opening poem.

Bentley
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bentley
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Re: First Impressions (Spoiler - reference points from Chapter Eighteen)

[ Edited ]

rkubie wrote:
Please use this thread to begin discussing your early impressions as you dive into the novel. No spoilers, please!




SPOILER - REFERENCES TO CHAPTER EIGHTEEN
If you have not read up through Chapter Eighteen, please do not read further.


Rachel..first I am unsure whether what I have written below constitutes a spoiler so I am putting a spoiler warning both in the message subject and body. I am referencing some indications that the Judge is uneasy in his own skin from Desai's narrative in Chapter Eighteen which is in the first part of this novel. If you want to move this to Opening Chapters, please feel free to do so if you decide it is too revealing. I didn't think it was; but just in case. With the set up the way it was, it was a little confusing.

Rachel, as I get more and more into the book I am beginning to net out this book as being about race and culture; and I am sorely reminded a little so far of Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist. The Judge is not very comfortable with the English, and so far is ending up both envying the English and loathing the Indians at the same time (and finding himself being hated by both). This character found himself not really belonging to either camp and he finds himself trying to compromise himself by trying to settle somewhere in the middle

There are many parallels about this in the book and as I am rereading the first section through chapter 19, I wonder about the decisions people make which help them forget or distance themselves from their humble beginnings or remembering where they really came from and what were their origins.

Reading about these living conditions and the tawdriness and being uncomfortable about the analogies that Desai makes may be what makes a few readers tire easily of this novel, give up on it or sense an uneasiness themselves when reading it. I think the viewpoint is an interesting one to hear even if you do not agree.

I hope that you are still here moderating and will join me on this journey with this book.

Message Edited by bentley on 01-21-2008 12:42 PM
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Rachel-K
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Re: First Impressions (Spoiler - reference points from Chapter Eighteen)

Bentley,

I am still here, and thanks for the comments! There is so much that makes me uneasy in the novel, and so much that is delightful, that I also feel uncomfortable with my enjoyment of it sometimes! What is Desai's attitude toward her characters? Are their frailties a black comedy for us? Is she tender toward them?

The description of the judge's colonial self-hatred is monstrously disturbing, I think. And somehow, whatever sympathy I develop for the character is also distasteful to me. I just couldn't come to terms with this one. Gyan is another I don't think I could come to terms with.

And I hope it isn't a non sequitur, but at the other end of the spectrum of characters, why is Saeed Saeed so successful, so untrapped by this racial self-hatred? It was always a lighthearted relief to get to his passages!

Rachel
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