Soniah Kamal

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'Islam is not Pakistan's religion; Marriage is'

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Barry Udall, The Lonely Polygamist, Immigrants and Fleas

Barry Udall's novel 'The Lonely Polygamist' is getting raves for its sensitive portrayal of a polygamist who has an affair, and the trials and tribulations of his lonely wives and even lonelier children. And it is sensitive. And well written, especially the parts about grief incurred by successive miscarriages and the death of children. With all this sensitivity going for it, I'm finding it very hard to come up with excuses for the following passage. But, really, is there any excuse good enough, or of value, in likening immigrants to fleas?

By the time he made it to St. George, the fleas had begun to stir. They'd
been laying low, like immigrants getting used to the neighborhood, but now that
they'd acclimated, picked up on the local language and customs, they were on the
move and causing trouble. Anywhere there was hair, they congregated: in the vast
prairies on his cheeks and belly and the forest that covered his scalp. In
particular they seemed to be making themselves comfortable in the crack of his
page 413 hardcover.
As my nine year old would say 'this is just wrong!' Excreable, more like it. How did this odious passge bypass an agent and an editor and the many readers before it arrived in stores.
Of course, I read the novel, but no matter how good a work, it is not going to convert me into being comfortable with polygamy, be it Mormon or Muslim. The last chapter in The Lonely Polygamist where a fifth wife joins the fold in a marriage ceremony, certainly pushes quite a few buttons.

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