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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Wild Animals Prohibited

Subimal Misra

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To purchase Wild Animals Prohibited

Title: Wild Animals Prohibited
Author: Subimal Misra
Genre: Stories
Written: (Eng. 2015)
Length: 271 pages
Original in: Bengali
Availability: Wild Animals Prohibited - US
Wild Animals Prohibited - UK
Wild Animals Prohibited - Canada
Wild Animals Prohibited - India
  • Stories, Anti-stories
  • These stories were originally written in the 1970s and 1980s
  • Translated by V.Ramaswamy
  • Includes 'In Lieu of a Preface' by the author
  • A 'P.S.'-section includes a Translator's Note, essays about Misra, as well as a Q & A with the author

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Our Assessment:

B : intriguing, challenging variety

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Business Standard . 7/11/2015 Nilanjana S. Roy
The Telegraph . 15/1/2016 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Misra's works are more about language than about narrative. (...) The images will haunt readers long after they have put the book aside." - The Telegraph

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:

       Wild Animals Prohibited collects twenty-five stories (and anti-stories ...) written by Subimal Misra in the 1970s and 1980s. In a brief 'In Lieu of a Preface' (Misra was unwell at the time, and unable to write an actual preface), the author suggests they're not necessarily representative -- at least not in eliciting the hoped-for reactions from readers:

     I want to write so as to disturb the reader, and that has been my practice so far. I am not sure whether the stories collected here do that, whether they make the reader throw away the book in disgust and rage.
       That's asking a lot from any piece of writing -- but even if these stories can't elicit such strong reactions, at least they challenge readers, in form and style. As Misra also explains:
     Breaking narrative -- that is what I seek to do. So the emphasis is on language, and not on the story. The emphasis is not on what I say, but how I say it.
       In this he is more successful -- though the difficulties of translation, as also noted by V.Ramaswamy, complicate anything near full appreciation of that in these English versions. Yet enough of Misra's experimentation with both story-telling and language come across here -- and the variety in both is great enough to make for a collection that is always, at the very least, intriguing.
       There is some fairly traditional storytelling here as well. 'A Gem of a Man' alternates back an forth between a fable-like explanation of God deciding on the lifespans of various animals in turn (monkeys, donkeys, dogs, and finally man) and the long-lived and influential guru Bucket Baba, dispenser of great wisdom to many people, including important figures (film director Raj Kapoor and Sanjay Gandhi among them , while Indira Gandhi's 1977 election loss is blamed on her having: "forgotten to take Baba's blessing"). The back-and-forth narrative is less intimidating here, the two story-lines seemingly fairly simple and conventional; there's an edge of political and social commentary here, but -- relatively speaking -- it's fairly straightforward. At the other extreme is a piece such as 'How a Horse Becomes a Donkey: Horse > Horkey > Honkey > Donkey' which, with its single-line bits -- fragments of story as well as of stray fact -- shifts to near prose-poem, and includes both a block of Bengali text, and an illustration, itself a blur of overlapping (Bengali) text.
       In 'Babbi', Misra writes what applies of many of these pieces -- and the collection, as a whole:
     All these disjointed narratives, coming in succession, produce a reaction in the readers' minds. To extend their influence onto feeling and then go beyond that -- to poison. This is what shock treatment is all about.
       The repeated observation that his writing is meant to elicit strong reactions doesn't necessarily help his undertaking: it's an easy thing to say that, and how, one wants to shock; it's rather more difficult to simply do that with words on a page. Nevertheless, when he gets down to it, much of the writing is, at least, provocative (and, yes, occasionally irritating -- in good and occasionally less good ways).
       The political is often present in the stories, and while Misra notes that: "Several of these stories are from the Naxalite period, and are written with a Naxalite bent, for instance, of doing away with everything", but, for example, 'By the Roots' more simply presents a quite traditional critique of the status quo in describing one character's career- and life-arc, from landing a good job (as a policeman) when a politician comes to town, promising (and then delivering) on jobs in exchange for votes until, after a successful career, protagonist Madan decides to stand for election himself -- promising, too, jobs in exchange for votes. Here Misra presents a story in straightforward, realist vein -- covering a large span of time, but without the leaps and absurdities found in some of the other stories.
       'Heramba Naskar, Moushumi Naskar and Jatadhari Naskar' is another piece that is both a simple tale and commentary on social and legal norms and realities: Heramba marries Moushumi; Heramba's younger brother Jatadhari lives with them and Heramba comes to discover his brother is sleeping with his wife; the situation explodes into a conflict between the brothers that ends with one killing the other; the interests of the survivors prevail over justice.
       Meanwhile, 'A Perfect Picture of This Social System -- Who's Responsible ? takes the form of a commentary on and discussion of a(n apparently fictional) film to address social issues -- and their fictional (in film, and fiction) representation; it is among the sharpest and most accessible of Misra's stories.
       '36 Feet Towards the Revolution' is another tale that seems to unfold similarly straightforwardly, at least at first, but shifts to the more surreal, beginning with its major twist, as when the main character is shot in the heart surgeons see no option but to remove it, and then: "When Subhendu was discharged from the hospital, his heart, packed in paper box, was given over to him".
       Stories such as 'Calcutta Dateline' and 'Will You Preserve Your Chastity, Aparna' integrate other sources -- news stories, excerpts from popular women's magazines and books -- into the texts, versions of the collage-technique that is apparently even more prevalent in Misra's more recent fiction. It's an effective technique here.
       This volume also includes an extensive 'P.S.'-section of over forty pages of supporting material, a variety of pieces that provide more information and insight into Misra's writing (not just that collected here), including translator V.Ramaswamy on translating Misra. This is helpful context, including in giving a good impression of Misra and his ambitions (including in a Q & A with him).
       The collection Wild Animals Prohibited is certainly of interest, with quite a few striking pieces and many interesting bits, but perhaps more than anything it makes the reader curious about Misra's next and later work: with the newest piece here almost three decades old, it would certainly be interesting to see how Misra has evolved as a writer since (as also tantalizingly suggested in the supporting material, that gives hints of some of this). Wild Animals Prohibited certainly serves as a solid introduction to an obviously interesting and creative author from whom one hopes to see more in translation.

- M.A.Orthofer, 21 December 2018

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Wild Animals Prohibited: Reviews: Other books by Subimal Misra under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Indian literature

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About the Author:

       Bengali author Subimal Misra (সুবিমল মিশ্র) lived 1943 to 2023.

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© 2018-2023 the complete review

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