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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Mahasweta Devi

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To purchase Bait

Title: Bait
Author: Mahasweta Devi
Genre: Stories
Written: (Eng. 2005)
Length: 166 pages
Original in: Bengali
Availability: Bait - US
Bait - UK
Bait - Canada
Bait - India
  • and Other Stories
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Sumanta Banerjee

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Our Assessment:

B : reasonably effective tales of a violent and corrupted society

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The four stories in Bait all touch upon the Bengali underworld, though corruption and violence have extended throughout society here. The stories have one-word titles -- 'Knife', 'Killer' -- and Devi's style is quick and direct, full of short sentences and quick dialogue. She sets here scenes with a few simple brushstrokes: 'Knife' begins:

     A dismal rainy evening. A small town in West Bengal. A district near the border.
       Similarly, characters and their histories are summed up in a few sentences:
Her parents belonged to some tribal community. Both, arrested after several murders. Both, hanged. The little girl grew up as a ward of the state. Went to school, joined college. It is best to make no mention of her face. Her face, hewn out of some ancient, craggy rock. Her expression, usually inscrutable. But who cares about the face, it's her body, her body, like the goddess of a pre-historic people. Black, primeval, brutal, frightening.
       Each tales centers on a figure involved in some part of the endemic corruption all around; the most poignant story is 'Fisherman', in which a fisherman, Jagat, now earns his money by diving for bodies for the local police, who summon him every other day. The bodies he dives for are those of the victims of the battles for power and money, generally killed by the authorities themselves, their worth reduced to the seven rupees Jagat charges for each corpse he retrieves. Naturally, eventually the job hits too close to home.
       'Knife' and 'Killer' deal with those who commit violence, yet in all the stories it is made clear that the all is connected, that responsibility and guilt taint almost everyone, that they are stuck in a vicious circle (from which, too often, the only sort of escape is the most inadequate one -- death itself).
       Devi's style is fairly effective and evocative, if occasionally too portentous. Almost telegraphically abbreviated, some of the passages can seem too spare; obviously, also, this is a difficult style to render in another language (and translator Sumanta Banerjee notes in her introduction that: "For anyone who has ever ventured into that exercise, it must have given the translator cramps !" (a description put in a way that also suggests some of what Banerjee does (and doesn't) bring to the translation)).
       An approachable introduction to Devi's work, this collection of dark pieces also offers some interesting insight into near-contemporary Bengali society.

- M.A.Orthofer, 14 April 2010

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Bait: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Indian literature

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About the Author:

       Mahasweta Devi (মহাশ্বেতা দেবী) lived 1926 to 2016.

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