Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Kakutani takes down Mukherjee's "The Tree Bride"

I sincerely hope I never write a book that is reviewed this negatively by Michiko Kakutani. Still, can even this disdainful dis -- a piledriver from the third rope -- stop Bharati Mukherjee from writing more?

My enjoyment of this just goes to show, one should be careful moralizing about negative reviewing. When it's warranted, hostile reviewing makes for a very entertaining tamasha. The highlight is the following (a slow build-up):

Where "Desirable Daughters" gracefully limned the hidden sympathies and dissonances within a family, "The Tree Bride" strains to draw tangential connections between Tara and an assortment of historical figures she never knew. There are long, stilted descriptions of life in India under the Raj, and even longer, more stilted descriptions of the imperial sins committed by the British.

The author's aim, presumably, is to show the ripple effect that history can have on individuals, to show the patterns of love and betrayal and redemption that are repeated generation to generation. The point Ms. Mukherjee wants to make reverses the points she's made in earlier novels. This time she suggests that the freedom to begin a new life, offered by America, will always be circumscribed by familial imperatives, by religious and cultural tropes and by more primeval, subterranean forces that her characters like to think of as fate.

None of these grand ambitions are fulfilled in this swollen, ungainly novel. Ms. Mukherjee's efforts to widen her canvas from the personal to the political, from the private to the historical, result in her most maladroit novel yet.

Plot has never been one of Ms. Mukherjee's stronger gifts, and the story line of this novel is particularly preposterous.

Stilted! Strained! Swollen! Ungainly! Inconsistent! Her most maladroit yet! Completely preposterous! Well, it probably won't too long before we see this one in the 'remaindered' bin with the other eight Mukherjee novels.

By the way, books by Indian authors with references to: marriage, arranged marriages, brides, henna, masala, mangos, curry, and chutney in the title should be immediately and permanently banned. (References to Hindu Gods might be ok, but only if a hefty tax is imposed.)

6 comments:

JD said...

re: the ban on Masala, remember Masta Ace? His "Slaughtahouse" was quite important to me in regards to thinking language, self-similarity, and sound back in the day, partic. 'A Walk Thru The Valley' and 'Jeep Ass Niguh/Born to Roll'. His new album has a song called 'BKLYN Masala', an 'Ice Cream'-style Pakistani-fetish rap ballad, partic. BKLYN in its thinking...thing is, it's quite beautiful, musically--no bollywood samples, thank you!--and quite evocative of the whole Gangstarr meme circa Hard to Earn. I could see it being quite the East Coast anthem, in Jazzy Jeff's crates or whatev. "This may sound kinda Wu-Tang-Clannish, but this butter-pecan honey was not spanish"...had me laughing at least.

JD said...

re: the ban on Masala, remember Masta Ace? His "Slaughtahouse" was quite important to me in regards to thinking language, self-similarity, and sound back in the day, partic. 'A Walk Thru The Valley' and 'Jeep Ass Niguh/Born to Roll'. His new album has a song called 'BKLYN Masala', an 'Ice Cream'-style Pakistani-fetish rap ballad, partic. BKLYN in its thinking...thing is, it's quite beautiful, musically--no bollywood samples, thank you!--and quite evocative of the whole Gangstarr meme circa Hard to Earn. I could see it being quite the East Coast anthem, in Jazzy Jeff's crates or whatev. "This may sound kinda Wu-Tang-Clannish, but this butter-pecan honey was not spanish"...had me laughing at least.

Amardeep said...

Of course I remember Masta Ace. All those early/mid 90s rap songs are (for better or worse) kind of burned in my head. I also still remember AZ as well as groups like Black Moon -- people who have been kind of forgotten.

I listened to "Brooklyn Masala," and I'm considering extending my ban on "masala" to include rap songs.

The song is kind of catchy, but some parts are confusing. Has she really just moved to the U.S. six months ago, from Pakistan? And she's letting some dude "holla" at her on the street? Then there's the part about the bindi -- if she's from Pakistan (and presumably Muslim), she doesn't wear a bindi. Also, the Kama Sutra?! Please, mister Masta Ace, spare us at least that cliche.

Though the rap fetish for S.Asian women is kind of interesting because it's new, the song as a whole doesn't ring true to me.

Shashwati said...

Ouch! Mukherji takes quite a beating, usually from South Asians, so this is new. I did like Holder of the World, its scale was refreshing, no sweet little grandma in the backyard story, which is usually the domain SA women writers occupy, you know, properly domesticated. Though the novel had its flaws, not the least some of its turgid prose. So don't know if I will read this one.

JD said...

The ship was listing before the Kama Sutra, but that line certainly sinks the boat. And what happens at the end of the song: one sample says "Thank you madame for this fascinating lesson in our cultural differences" (in a British accent no less); another voice, this one Hollywood-familiar (Neil Labute?), replies,"Truth...is looking at a beautiful woman and saying to youself 'I've gotta have that...I've gotta break...her'". Ace is gonna BREAK his butter-pecan honey after all that?
WEird isn't it?

I'm also recalling his battle of the bass in Jeep Ass Niguh, in which he "schools" a "Puerto Rico Latin Chico Rico Suave" who pulls up next to him at a red light; there's a moment of mutual sonic abandon--"he got music al grande!" shouts Ace--but it turns into a fight. Race politics are not the man's forte; bass politics, on the other hand...

Craig said...

"Thank you madame for this fascinating lesson in our cultural differences." This is actually said in a pretty strong French accent, it's a quote from the Poirot television show!