Book Review: Select Voices from Africa and Asia: (New Literatures in English)

Review by: Niloy Mukherjee

Research Scholar (English), Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow.


Select Voices from Africa and Asia: (New Literatures in English)  
R. P. Singh (editor)
Publisher: Yking Books, Jaipur
Year: 2016
p. 255
Price: ₹ 1195.00

In her book Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming, Catherine Keller writes, “Yet those who wear the mark of chaos, the skins of darkness, the genders of unspeakable openings -- those Others of Order keep finding voice.” Though uttered in a very different context, this statement could possibly be re-read to define the anthology Select Voices from Africa and Asia: (New Literatures in English) compiled and edited by Dr. R. P. Singh. In the words of the editor, “the forte of this edited volume is to address the major issues in select African and Asian writings in English.” This volume adheres to a broad sense of new literature as literatures from Asia and Africa presenting different indicators of freedom as well as writings from imperialist nations surviving as undercurrents in the broader colonial discourse. The critical essays in this volume attempt to analyse and unearth such voices in the arena of New literatures in English. The anthology contains fourteen papers by renowned scholars in the field and a personal interview of the editor with Mahesh Dattani.
John Iwuh’s article “Dying Traditions in Igboland: Iku Ofo and the Modern Justice System” examines “the neglect of some traditional methods of punishment…  of the Igbo people before the modern institutional legal process… (It) interrogates the dilemma of the Igbo society caught between these practices and the constitutional legal practice in the 21st century…” The article attempts to examine the ways in which the traditional methods of punishment kept crimes in check, reasons for their decline and the attractions of the modern judicial system in the Nigerian society. Ferdinand Mbah’s “Religious Ideology and the Crisis of Priestly Corruption in Femi Osofisan’s Another Raft” demonstrates “the ideological status of religion as a mode of exploitative power”, however objecting to Marx’s dichotomous theory of religion as a repressive instrument and “a blanket characterization of religion as a repressive ideology.” The paper opines that “the repressive practices that were subsequently imputed to religion… are manifestations of the unintended weaknesses inherent in an otherwise well-intentioned idea.” Camille S. Alexander’s article “With Both Rhyme and Reason: Class, Gender, and Marginalization in the Poetic Work of Eintou Pearl Springer” observes that the Afro-Caribbean poet E.P.Springer’s “poetry is both revolutionary and political… (It) deals primarily with power and how power is enacted against marginalized groups such as underclass, women and people of colour.” Springer’s works assert that the issues troubling the Caribbean are “ultimately the result of Western intervention in the region.” Saddik M.Gohar’s paper “Re-writing the Jew in Contemporary Arabic Literature” attempts to “re-historicize the literary representation of the Jew in Arabic/Palestinian literature dealing with the Palestinian question in order to illuminate controversial issues integral to both sides of the conflict.” The paper argues that Kanafani and other Palestinian authors have provided counter-narratives to conservative Arabic discourse “deploying positive Jewish images” ushering an era of new literatures marked by “human issues of common interest for the two partners in the conflict.”  Sihem Arfaoui Abidi’s “Under the Spell of Non-Sense: Diana Abu-Jaber’s Crescent as a Counter-Narrative and the Poetics of Making Sense of a Senseless World” probes into “some aspects of sense and nonsense through Abu-Jaber’s Crescent” and infers that “the crisis of sense in Crescent can only make sense in the plural form, rather than the singular.” The paper relates this to “Abu-Jaber’s own attempts to make sense of the twenty-first century crisis for the Arab American by sending out a hopeful note” and asserts that when verbal language fails, other means of signification take over. Lin Knutson’s article “Reading Michelle Cliff’s Womb of Space” explores the Afro-Caribbean writer Michelle Cliff’s “constructions of West Indian identity in relation to landscapes and other sites” where “Cliff’s central characters must discover a displaced past… to reconstitute their present.” The article notes how Cliff’s narrator fragments completely “to become an absent signifier for female revolutionary power.” A.M.Aikoriogie’s “Semantic Truncation in Ben Okri’s Astonishing the Gods” uses the Componential theory of meaning alongside contextual knowledge of the real world to argue that “oddities in meaning account for Utopianism in Okri’s (world of) Astonishing the Gods.” Kaustav Kundu’s paper “Mythologies of ‘Mapped’ Desire: Subverting the Cartographic Discourse in Andre Brink’s An Instant in the Wind” unveils how Brink’s work emphasizes that attempts at a cartographic reconstruction of any geographical space “fail as true representations of the ‘real’ world” and asserts that “a map is… a vision; that every map can be redrawn; and that frontiers are enabling myths that help us… create a sense of our identities and should therefore not harden into prison walls perpetuating the principle of binarity.” Haider Eid’s “All That Remains: Towards a National and Historical Consciousness” attempts to analyse how Kanafani’s real-life portrayal of suffering Palestinians in All That Remains “imposes an alternative way of seeing… that moves us into a new order of perception, experience, and understanding of art, revolution and Palestine.” Michael K. Walonen’s article “Establishing and Contesting Place Identity in the Nascent Literature in Dubai” studies Dubai’s attempt at self-representation in literature and concludes that “a multivalent, contestatory discourse of place becomes… a means of doing justice to the inherent complexities of any given place… (and) can serve as a corrective to forms of myopicness…” Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar’s paper “Partition’s Aftermath: “Zahooran Belonged to Someone Else” analyses how Khadija Mastur’s short story “Bhooray” is a unique tale of “a section of unseen women who subsisted after losing family, home, and stability in the dislocation of communities” in the aftermath of the partition of India. Nyanchi Marcel Ebliylu’s article “Who’s Painting?: Artistic Visuality in Salman Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh” explores the use of painting in Rushdie’s aforesaid novel “as a narratological tool to articulate and satirise history, social life, religion and politics as… (an alternate) form of écriture feminine …” and advocates the inclusion of painting in the educational system. Enkelena Shockett (Qafleshi)’s “Salman Rushdie’s World in Haroun and the Sea of Stories” analyses the inter-textuality, unique character development techniques of the author, and poetics in the said work. Bhawana Jain’s “Diachronic Diaspora and Shifting Borders in Anita Desai’s Migration Fiction” elucidates “the diachronic diasporas and borders in… Anita Desai’s novels, by making an historical and a conceptual distinction between old and new diasporas.”The interview of the editor R. P. Singh with Mahesh Dattani titled “Indian Drama in English “is still at a nascent stage” provides an interesting peek into Dattani’s views about his own works and about Indian Theatre.
The anthology provides fresh perspectives in the area of New literatures in English and brings together papers from a broad arena of cultures, interests and values that are as diverse as New literatures themselves. Its multiplicity of perspectives makes the anthology recommendable for personal reference and libraries.  

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