Sunday, September 28, 2014

Book Review: Imaginary Homelands by Salman Rushdie

This is a non-fiction work by Salman Rushdie. It is a collection of around 70 essays published during 1981-1991 in various periodicals put together in the form of a book. Most of them are critics on many subjects ranging from the subject of the books and their authors, movies, political leaders and situations, racism in Europe and so on.

The first essay “Imaginary Homelands” deals with the dilemma faced by those writers who left their homelands (emigrated from their home country) like Rushdie himself and cannot reclaim precisely what is lost but instead take the route of creating fictions of imaginary homelands. This theme and the related topic of emigrant writers in English not being considered on par with the native writers are present in many of the essays and critics of this book.

In one of the essays, Rushdie writes about Kipling that “There will always be plenty in Kipling that I will find difficult to forgive; but there is also enough truth in his stories to ignore”. I suppose the readers of Rushdie would form a similar opinion about him. Either you will love him or hate him but cannot ignore.

Though in most essays Rushdie appears to be complaining, taking digs at fellow writers, not praising anyone without ifs and buts, there are few exceptions too. In “The painter and the pest”, author points out how an Indian discovered a western painter and struggled to promote his work and helped him gain recognition and global acceptance. That is a delightful read, if the reader happens to be an Indian.

Regarding India, its religious integration, politics and the future, the author is deeply opinionated. But we can see that India did not run into troubles the author expected and wrote about two decades ago. It is jot just Rushdie who got it wrong. Many authors and political leaders in the 1980's believed India will disintegrate given the the outburst of communal violence. But I believe India has emerged out stronger and current generation does not see the issue in the same lens of their predecessors. 

This is a must read for those who like Salman Rushdie though the many of the essays on politics have lost relevance in current times (These essays were written 20 years ago). Writer’s intelligence, research skills are striking and admirable provided one can tolerate sarcasm and arrogance along with it.