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A Cast Iron Pan April 3, 2007

Posted by KG in Books, publishing.
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Well before zombies (zombies!), I had an on-again, off-again genre fixation for novels about me.  Not Me with a capital M, but little-m me, the “South Asian male with identity issues” me.  If you haven’t read the usual list of novels  about him (no need to rehash that here), you’ve probably seen him in the movies.  But after reading the thoroughly disappointing Londonstani, I decided to give the genre up.  Because after a few years of enjoying literary popularity and prominence, it had become boring. 

I guess I should qualify the “thoroughly disappointing” statement.  Yes, I did read Londonstani in about two sittings.  The use of Punjabi/Urdu/Hindi patois was amusing, and the whole “gangsta Desi” thing was fairly graphic — and titillating, at least for the male id.  The author threw in lots of nice references to suck in south Asian readers, the stereotypical ones about pickles and Stardust and bhangra that hit the sentimentality button.  The first hundred pages, if not artful, were at the very least amusing in an “aww, he lived like us, but with crime!” sort of way.  Unfortunately, that steam wore off around the fourth or fifth bhaji reference, and the novel went way downhill from there, to the point where the final twist will most likely have you banging your head on the nearest hard object.  

With some crucial details (primarily racial) changed, Londonstani would probably be on the high-quality end of the “pulp ghetto lit” genre.  Not a bad novel, per se — but definitely not good, and not deserving the hardcover with dust jacket packaging the book received — or the brief review in the New Yorker, for that matter.  Middling is probably the best adjective.  Also: boring, fetishistic, and sloppy.  In a perverse way, perhaps that’s a service for the entire sub-group of aspiring South Asian writers.  Ten years ago, my personal take on Londonstani would have been to call it an outrageous and irreverent commentary on race relations in contemporary London.  Granted, that’s as much an indictment on my relative immaturity as it is on the publishing machine that sees the success of comparables and tries to ride the wave.  But books like Londonstani, by being mediocre and uninspiring, are an antidote for the critical adulation of “exotic India!” that allowed it to be published.  In the company of other well-known trainwrecks, now there’s some chaff to be separated from the metaphorical wheat.       

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Comments»

1. Laura - April 5, 2007

Did you like “Brick Lane” by Monica Ali? More of a girl story and of course with the Bangladeshi tie — but it definitely seems to fall under South Asians and identity issues. I liked it until the ending.

2. Suzanne - April 16, 2007

What are your thoughts on The Namesake?


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