Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Review of English, August

Critique of : English, August, by Upamanyu Chatterjee

My rating: 5/5

It’s very difficult to articulate exactly what this book elicited in me while reading and make it cohere, so I’ll just throw stuff at the ceiling like semi-cooked pasta and hope some of it sticks, to amuse the guests.
Agastya (August) is an Indian Administrative Service officer in training, who has left the bustling energy of Calcutta for a forlorn existence in Madna, buffeted from one official to the next and trying to conserve some sense of self. He is unhappy, and lends this unhappiness the credence it warrants.
Afternoons, he spends time with exiles such as himself, drinking whiskey, smoking marijuana and voicing desultory thoughts. His mind wanders, restless, and during sleepless evenings he engages in nightly runs to tire his body and force it to remember what life should feel like. He sits in his room listening to of jazz music on cassette player (the story takes place in the 80’s) and reading Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. He suspects that his cook serves him faeces so scrounges meals off his social acquaintances and observes their family dynamics.

But Agastya is not lazy or without ambition. He aspires whole-heartedly to be happy. His senses are keen and he is always on lookout for perspective on his existence, the possibility of a way out, the conclusions of kindred travellers.

I read this book in the mornings. After dropping off my younger girl at school, I walk toward work and stop off every day at a youth hostel in Paris’ 19th arrondissement that has an open café. There, seated in a corner with my coffee and book, I hear other languages, mostly European but also some Asian, people come from all over, there’s a tingling in the air. It’s a good place to read a book like this one, steeped in an sense of passage, of curiosity, of search.

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