Soniah Kamal

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

Friday, July 29, 2011

Review of 'Perfect Peace' by Daniel Black

I began Daniel Black's novel 'Perfect Peace' last night and could not put it down. In 1940s Arkansas Emma Jean gives birth to her sixth son but so desperate is she for a daughter that she lies to everyone that the boy is a girl, a 'girl' she names Perfect. This lie continues till Perfect's eighth birthday.
Black has written a rivetting novel about identity, gender, sexuality and above all flawed parents, their confused children and small town mentality. 'Perfect Peace' (the names in this novel are delicious as is the chapter delineating how each son got his name) raises some very interesting questions about parental obligations and the far reaching legacy of abuse. Had Emma Jean's mother loved her even a little bit would she have been as desperate to cherish a daughter as she herself was never cherished? Had her sisters been a little nicer might they have saved her from herself? Had Gus been a little less worried about community might Perfect's transition have been a little easier for everyone? Had King Solomon's (by far my favorite character) dreams truly broken could he too have entered into the spiral of abuse?
Emma Jean's mother is a thoroughly believable monster whose poisonous spirit informs every page of the novel as does Emma Jean's struggle between hating her mother and desperately wanting to love her and be loved by her. Can people really ever heal from wounds inflicted by parents? Can siblings affection truly be a  balm? Can people honestly find happiness once they 'choose' to settle into lives they know they will regret? Since Emma Jean was herself a victim of 'favoratism' should she have known not to pick and choose amongst her own children? Can a 'sorry' really heal all ills? What sort of a person can and cannot live with regrets?
Black has employed the interesting stylistic device of interrupting a character's present story in order to divulege their future; no doubt for a reader who wants to get to the end only at the end and not in media res this will be very irritating, however, once I got used to this tic I enjoyed it but only because Black prose flows very well and his characters are full and rich. There is so much in this novel-- child abuse, incest, rape, madness, domestic violence, mean spiritedness, shadenfreude,-- which could have been heavy handed and yet is all the more terrible for Black showing these things through his characters rather than harping on about these ills.  I loved the way children innocently told each other how Daddies and Mummies behave. As for the explorations of why it is  'happier' to be a girl rather than a boy and that too a pretty girl, they are pitch perfect and heart breaking. I was also rivetted by the explorations of what it means to be a 'pretty boy' or an 'ugly girl' and how these description, true or not, can mold one's character.
I would have liked more of an ending to Perfect/Paul's story as well as that of Mister and Johnny Ray and King Solomon but is it really a flaw when the reader wants the story to never end?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Indian film 'Delhi Belly': a review.

I'd sworn not to watch 'Delhi Belly'. Someone had told me it was the Indian version of 'The Hangover.' I disliked the film 'The Hangover'. The ludicrous scenarios, the scratching of potbellys, the cliched Chinese characters; nothing made me laugh, everything made me groan. I did not want to sit through another Hangover and certainly not an Indian version of it.

'Delhi Belly', a film by Aamir Khan, is anything but a remake or version of 'The Hangover'. Sure there are three guys and one of them has a potbelly and no qualms about farting, and yes the three guys find themselves in ludicrous situations doing ridiculous things but 'Delhi Belly' is a smart and sassy film, a film where everything within the context makes sense and every character, even the minor ones such as a room service waiter, is given intelligent treatment (though the soon-to-be-exhubby's antics are a little over the top). True 'Delhi Belly' boasts a curse a second and gratuitous cursing makes me very uncomfortable as do sex scenes just for the sake of them in which case they are sleaze scenes but in this case the swearing seemed natural to the characters and fitting to the scenes as did the sexual stuff. In fact I was surprised by how much I laughed and how charmed I was by this film where pottys and potty and potty humor play a starring role. The brilliant acting by everyone, the seamless editing, the edgy, grimy cinamatography, the exciting score, the funny lyrics, the fantastic script, the very opening sequence which sets the viewer on squemish edge to the over the top 'item number' at the end-- everything comes together to provide an exquisitive experience. But I truly dread to think of the dreadful copy cat movies that will follow this gem because humor of this sort can so easily go disgustingly wrong.
Indian cinema is becoming a treat to watch these days with smart commercial films like Om Shanti Om, Jab We Met, Baand Baja Baarat, Luck by Chance, Rang de Basanti, 3 Idiots and now 'Delhi Belly.' 'Delhi Belly' is the first Indian film in English and yes 'Delhi Belly' does refer to a mean diarrhea caused by less than hygenic food. The faint of heart will certainly think this is a less than hygenic and more than distasteful movie, and please it is NOT for kids of any age, but as my friends and I left the theatre we thought it was smart, solid entertainment.  I'd sworn not to watch 'Delhi Belly' but I got roped into it and am I glad I did!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Passing, Ageism and Being Your True Self

"Everyone has some point at which they think that, all things considered, it's not that in those circumstances lying isn't wrong, it's just that telling the truth would be so much worse. I am the SS. Do you have any Jews in your cellar? Does anyone think the right answer is yes, if it's true?" Appiah went , "But I do think there is a separate issue with identity questions. If you are asked directly to reveal your deepest sense of who you are, it's particularly difficult not toe tell the truth. This is especially true in the free world, in the modern world, because we have this idea that you have the right to express your identity in the social world. And that one of the things that's wrong with the situations that force people to pass."

"Black for white passing first brought the Americanism passing into use...passing looks a lot different in our time than it did in the pre-civil rights days..."
from Passing: When People Can't Be Who They Are by Brooke Kroeger, 2003

In 'Passing: When People Can't be Who They Are', Brooke Kroeger explores people who pass in our socially less rigid times for who they are not and yet feel they must be in order to reap advantages otherwise unavailable to them. Where once upon a time blacks and Jews needed to pass as white or gentiles to lead better lives and often to save their lives, today the modern-day passers Kroeger writes about are predominantly homosexuals whose lives might not be threatened but whose opportunties and dreams certainly are e.g. a gay Jew who want to become a Rabbi, a lesbian Naval officer referred to as the Careerist in the book because even after retirement she cannot come out of 'hiding/passing' on risk of being Court Martialed and losing her pension built upon twenty years of service. However there are other instances in the book, for example the Walt Whitman Award winning poet/Village Voice pop music critic who, in order to write his criticisms takes on the pseudonym of a woman simply because the 'authentic voice' comes to him in the persona of Jane Dark. When he was 'outed', the persons that he'd 'lied' to seemed less offended/upset, if at all, than he was upset with himself. Society accepted his 'deceit/pretense/alter ego/fluid identity' call it what you will while he himself seemed to find society's blatant okayness problematic...