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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

    

The Infinity Of Grace

by
O.V.Vijayan


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Infinity Of Grace



Title: The Infinity Of Grace
Author: O.V.Vijayan
Genre: Novel
Written: 1987 (Eng. 1997)
Length: 170 pages
Original in: Malayalam
Availability: The Infinity Of Grace - US
The Infinity Of Grace - UK
The Infinity Of Grace - Canada
  • Malayalam title: ഗുരുസാഗരം
  • Translated by Ramesh Menon and the author

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Our Assessment:

B+ : great sadness, but a surprising sense of solace to the acceptance of it

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
India Today . 31/1/1997 Paul Zachariah
Outlook . 29/1/1997 Makarand Paranjape


  From the Reviews:
  • "Infinity of Grace is a multi-layered story of great complexity constructed around several individual narratives and plots through which the experiences of Kunjunni, the central character, runs like an assembling thread. Each narrative is structured with its own ambience and interwoven into the whole, expanding the meaning and significance of Kunjunni's experience. (...) The whole work is lit from within by the vision of this final tragedy, its acceptance, and the peace that springs from it. The master craftsman that he is, Vijayan also entraps us in a surround-vision of the edge of a larger universe of human frailties and fidelities encasing Kunjunni's journey towards the Ultimate Blow. The translation, jointly done by the author and the well-known novelist Ramesh Menon, is accomplished with feeling, force and ease. In fact, it reads better than the original which is heavy in diction and overloaded with the catchwords of the run-of-the-mill spirituality" - Paul Zachariah, India Today

  • "It lacks the fecundity of Vijayan's earlier fabulism, the exuberance of his magic realism which has almost become his trademark. The Infinity of Grace is, in contrast, a compact, lyrical book. The consciousness of the protagonist binds together the many incidents and characters that flit in and out of its rich and textured narrative. Its theme is the human condition itself -- the inevitability of sorrow which, however, is compensated for by the irresistibility of grace." - Makarand Paranjape, Outlook

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Infinity Of Grace centers on Kunjunni, a journalist whose family comes from Kerala but who becomes a New Delhi-based journalist. Most of the novel takes place around the 1971 war that led to Bangladeshi independence. Eventually, Kunjunni travels to Calcutta (now Kolkata), where his estranged wife , a doctor, Sivani lives with their seven-year-old daughter, Kalyani, to report on the conflict; when India got more directly involved, in the brief Indo-Pakistani War in December of that year, he traveled into East Pakistan and then to Dacca (now Dhaka) for the official surrender.
       A Prologue has Kunjunni returning to south India, to his ancestral home -- though there is no family left there. It reveals where all this is going, Kunjunni having quit his job and looking to find peace back where he came from: though presented as Prologue, this is the final act. The first chapter then is one of recollection, the thirty-six year old Kunjunni recalling a time with his father, a quarter of a century earlier, as well as, for example, "the first time Sivani had come to this house", but then the novel proceeds chronologically, following Kunjunni's trail around New Delhi, West Bengal, soon-to-be-Bangladesh, and then a brief visit to Bombay (now Mumbai).
       From the first, there's a sense of drift to Kunjunni -- he's unmoored, with little to hold him. While he does go his newspapers offices, and interacts with others there, including the editor, he doesn't seem to actually do much (or any work); later, too, when he visits the refugee camps in Bengal, and when the Indo-Pakistani War flares up (and quickly out), even though he is on site, Vijayan only presents Kunjunni's experiences, without the tedium of his actually filing copy or the like. So also when he gets together with foreign journalists in Calcutta the activity seems more social than professional.
       There's a loneliness to Kunjunni, but in fact he is constantly involved with other people -- though very much moving on from one to the next. Throughout there's a sense of passing through; only his final destination is one where it seem he can actually (re)claim a firm hold -- tellingly, his place of origin, where his roots are.
       Among those the places Kunjunni visits is the ashrama of a Nirmalananda, an old classmate of his who had gone on to a brilliant military career -- "the most decorated soldier of the battle of Chushul" (a fairly big deal) -- who had lost his wife and child and turned his life to a spiritual path -- though willing to make some allowances for his old friend, as Kunjunni "alone had the freedom to drink" within the ashrama's precincts when he visits. He spends time alone with several women, each searching in their own way, too: the Czech Olga, who married a member of the secret police, and who is spending time in India (while he undergoes training for his tasks) after the disappointment of the Prague Spring's turn, or Lalitha, a relatively new hire at the office whose brother had been in the army and was killed in action, forcing her to abandon her studies and come to Delhi to get a job to support her two younger sisters. In Calcutta he visits Niharika Didi -- a woman he could have seen himself falling in love with -- whose son joined the revolutionary movements of the time and has been jailed for murder -- though: "'It is a political crime after all, Nihudi,' Kunjunni consoled her. 'We can look forward to some compromise.'". (These prove to be uncompromising times, however.) Kunjunni stays at an Armenian hotel in Calcutta, and is pleased to see the old barman from many years earlier there too -- another displaced person having found a small hold in a hotel that has fallen out of fashion.
       Politics and its violent manifestations have affected many of the characters: many were in the armed forces, or had relatives who were, while significant political conflicts feature very close to home, from the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia to the conflicts around what soon became Bangladesh, as well as Naxalite (and earlier) rebellions against the Indian state. The individual seems always crushed by these greater forces, yet life goes on for the survivors; among the impressive achievements by Vijayan in this novel is how war remains very much background -- even when Kunjunni goes near the front, and then into what are essentially the battlefields.
       The Infinity Of Grace is grief-saturated rather than just steeped, with many characters having lost love ones and death an all-too-large omnipresence (including in a heartbreaking scene from a refugee camp). Tears flow freely and constantly, as so many of the characters are on the verge of them, or break down -- their sadness not so much of the moment but of a deeper, more general sort. Typically:

Kunjunni and Niharika stood wordless, gazing at each other for a long time.
     'I am alone, Unni,' she said, at last.
     And she wept. Kunjunni waited for her tears to abate. He had no consolation to offer her. Let grief spend itself. Niharika led Kunjunni to a large sofa. She sat down beside him, and wept again.
       Eventually, Kunjunni is thrown off track when he heads to Dacca and is seriously injured by a grenade. Upon finally waking, he's asked:
Where were you wandering ? You have been in a coma for two months.
       His wandering was longer than that: all that is covered in the novel before he is knocked out was a similar drifting. Among his few ambitions had been to reconnect with his daughter and, after the cheerful letters that he gets from her before he makes it to Calcutta, he finally does get to see and enjoy some time with her -- though Sivani continues to keep her own distance. Upon waking from his coma, however, Kunjunni is hit with awful news, Sivani and Kalyani no longer in Calcutta but rather in Bombay, where Kalyani is receiving medical care. He rushes to see her on her deathbed -- and then receives a second, almost greater, blow as Sivani reveals an almost unbearable truth to him.
       It's no wonder Kunjunni packs it all in after that. Yet for all the tragedy and suffering, The Infinity Of Grace is not overwhelmingly heavily sad; the acceptance of the characters of what they endure is not so much one of resignation as one of spiritual calm. There is frustration, and deep sadness, about what fate has ordained, but they manage it rather than just wallow. There is outpouring of emotion -- notably in all the weeping -- but Vijayan even manages to make light of some of this, as when he has Lalitha write to Kunjunni and recount:
The Editor is irritable, he scolded me for a mistake I made while taking dictation. I cried. Seeing me cry, he laughed and consoled me, patting me on the shoulder. I may fall in love with him !
       The Grace Kunjunni recognizes and is drawn evermore too is a somewhat elusive spiritual concept, manifesting itself in, among other things, his memory and the figure of his father, a guiding light. Vijayan avoids getting all too heavy-handed about this spiritual element, so that, even though obviously central to the novel, it does not come across as all too tiresome.
       As much as drifting Kunjunni is the very well-drawn central figure in the novel, much of its success lies in the secondary characters, many of whom only appear for short stretches -- and yet whose own little stories are brought across very well. It makes for an unusual tapestry -- with one dominant figure, yet his dominance not drowning out all these other stories -- and a quite impressive and certainly affecting work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 24 September 2019

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Links:

Reviews: O.V.Vijayan: Other books by O.V.Vijayan under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See the Index of literature from and about India

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About the Author:

       Indian author Oottupulackal Velukkutty Vijayan (ഒ.വി.വിജയന്‍, 1930-2005) was a leading Malayalam writer and a prominent cartoonist.

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© 2019 the complete review

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