Publisher: Random House
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“The word 'translation' comes, etymologically, from the Latin for 'bearing across'. Having been borne across the world, we are translated men.” Salman Rushdie compares migration to translation- some things get carried across while others are left behind. Rushdie himself has been in the unique position of forever being the migrant, a Muslim in India, an Indian in Pakistan and a brown man in Britain. All his writing is a derivative, in some form or another, of his position as a migrant. It is the gap between the carrying forward and the leaving behind that makes his writing intriguing as well as controversial.
“Sometimes we feel we straddle two cultures; at other times, that we fall between two stools.”
Imaginary Homelands is a collection of Rushdie’s essays, seminar papers, articles, reviews published over a decade of his literary life time, 1981-1991. Like any collection of essays it is wide ranging, from the popular to the obscure. The essays deal with varying political, social and literary topics. The reaction to such a book can only be personal and subjective. It is not a story that can be discussed with some degree of detachment. Reading Imaginary Homelands is being engaged in a personal conversation by the author. Rushdie steers the conversation from within the pages while enthralling and vexing the reader in equal measure. There is a greater possibility of the reader being provoked into disagreeing with the author. Rushdie is that kind of a writer. But the greatest power of any book lies in provocation; that which leads to disagreement promotes thought.
The most engaging pieces are those dealing with authors like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Gunter Grass and Mario Vargas Llosa. It is evident that Rushdie feels a kinship with these writers for their radical approach to fantasy and reality in their writing. Being a migrant and an author it is through innovation of literary style and technique that he attempts to capture the migrant experience.
Imaginary Homelands is incisive, intellectual, probing, eloquent and lively. One can take issue with its wide scope. The variety is inclusive but maybe over generously so. The selection could perhaps have been edited better for a tighter knit bunch of essays.
“Human beings do not perceive things whole; we are not gods but wounded creatures, cracked lenses, capably only of fractured perceptions. Partial beings, in all the senses of that phrase.”
Each reader can glean different value from the book. It depends on every individuals world view. Chances are that one will fail to agree with a lot of the things Rushdie says, and his insistent, confident rhetoric may even come across as arrogant. The key lies in maintaining a constant debate, rather than giving up in frustration at the seemingly overbearing nature of the argument.