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the Complete Review

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Upamanyu Chatterjee
at the
complete review:


biographical | bibliography | quotes | pros/cons | our opinion | links


Biographical

Name: Upamanyu CHATTERJEE
Nationality: India
Born: 1959

  • Attended St. Stephen's College, Delhi
  • Joined the Indian Administrative Service in 1983

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Bibliography

Highlighted titles are under review at the complete review

Please note that this bibliography is not necessarily complete.

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Quotes

What others have to
say about
Upamanyu Chatterjee:

  • "Some of Chatterjee's sentences, when he calms down a little, are very good: someone seen briskly and precisely as "desiccated skin and cannonball knees." More than this, at least Chatterjee's fictional world is also its own complete verbal world, rather than the usual contemporary verbal mixture of journalism-and-candy. (...) Chatterjee's first novel had a satiny language, rich but controlled. It was warm and funny, and running with potential; his second is less funny, wildly uneven, and dried out with effort." - James Wood, The Guardian (17/8/1993)

  • "In his writing, Upamanyu Chatterjee defies convention." - Soumya Bhattacharya, The Hindustan Times (14/1/2001)

  • "Eighty years apart, cultures, civilisations, even craft and temperament apart, Yeats and Chatterjee share an identical vision of a de-centered, de-natured world." - Anjana Sharma, The Hindu (21/1/2001)

  • "That Chatterjee is wonky and witty his readers know. His capacity for silence -- his genius for remaining aloof in the face of gibes at his or Agastya Sen's Englishness -- is unnerving. With the three weapons of an artist (according to Joyce), silence, exile and cunning, Chatterjee has his armoury well stocked. " - Vijay Nambisan, The Hindu (1/4/2001)

  • "He's a writer worth discovering, and English, August is the place to start." - Michael Dirda, The Washington Post (23/4/2006)

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Pros and Cons
of the author's work:

    Pros:
  • Fine ear, good sense of language
  • Wry sense of humour
  • Writes about the real India

    Cons:
  • Limited availability of work outside India
  • Still relatively small output (three novels in twelve years, and some short stories)
  • Loses focus occasionally, putting episodes and anecdotes ahead of story
  • Harps on certain themes and subjects

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the complete review's Opinion

     Upamanyu Chatterjee was among the first of the recent generation of Indian authors to find success outside of India: his 1988 debut, English, August, published by Faber and Faber, was a critical and popular success. Strangely, then, Chatterjee has receded just as a tidal flow of English-language Indian fiction floods across Britain and the US.
     His 1993 novel, The Last Burden, also published by Faber, apparently did poorly, and the sequel to English, August, The Mammaries of the Welfare State (2000), has not been published in the US or Britain yet. Perhaps he is not Western enough: certainly it is notable that among the many Indian authors who have recently found success with Western publishers most reside at least part-time in the US or England. Chatterjee instead works for the Indian Administrative Service, and the two Agastya Sen-novels focus on the life of a young Indian bureaucrat.
     Are the inside jokes too Indian ? Are the bits of Hinglish thrown in too confusing ? Is his a portrayal of India that doesn't fit Western Passage to India-ideals ?
     In English, August Chatterjee writes of: "E.M.Forster, India's darling Englishman -- most of us seem to be so grateful that he wrote that novel about India." Western expectations certainly still lie there -- or in Rushdie-like fantasies. Chatterjee's realism (absurd and comic though much of it is) is of a different nature.
     Chatterjee doesn't get bogged down in the too popular magical "realism" of contemporary Indian authors writing in English. The absurdities of the Welfare State are bizarre enough for many entertainments, and Chatterjee makes the most of them.
     Chatterjee also is a fine stylist, and it is unfortunate that expectations after English, August undermined The Last Burden. A more focussed novel, the humour still present but more carefully dosed, The Last Burden shows Chatterjee's true strengths. The Agastya Sen novels are very fine comic entertainments (and welcome and necessary satire in contemporary India), but The Last Burden is a more fully realized novel and should ultimately be the more lasting work.
     Chatterjee has said that he plans to alternate writing Agastya Sen novels and novels resembling The Last Burden. Either type is welcome.
     Chatterjee's use of language has mystified some of his critics. In the Far Eastern Economic Review Theresa Munford wrote (27/1/1994):
... the reader often has to struggle through prose thick with obscure words. His characters don't whine, they pule; they don't speak, they discourse. His aim may be to double readers' vocabulary
     Also reviewing The Last Burden, James Wood wrote in The Guardian (17/8/1993):
A lot of strange and forgotten words appear in The Last Burden: like a Russian General and his medals, it wears them somewhat dementedly, with a chaotic and stuffed pride. But this panel of victories and campaigns wearies the poor spectator. There is too much here, and too much in the nature of self-reward.
     We find Chatterjee has a fine ear, and while his use of language is occasionally unusual it is almost always -- especially in tone -- apposite.
     The books read well, and the most noticeable weakness is the lack of plot. The episodes, however, almost all impress.
     A promising writer, deserving of greater recognition outside India.

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Links

Upamanyu Chatterjee: Upamanyu Chatterjee's books at the complete review: See also:

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