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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Farewell my Friend

Rabindranath Tagore

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To purchase Farewell my Friend

Title: Farewell my Friend
Author: Rabindranath Tagore
Genre: Novel
Written: 1929 (Eng. 1946)
Length: 182 pages
Original in: Bengali
Availability: Farewell my Friend - US
Farewell my Friend - UK
Farewell my Friend - Canada
Farewell my Friend - India
Das letzte Poem - Deutschland
  • Bengali title: শেষের কবিতা
  • Translated by Krishna Kripalani
  • Also translated as Farewell Song (by Radha Chakravarty, 2005), Sesher Kobita (by Anindita Mukhopadhyay, 2006), and The Last Poem (by Dilip Basu, 2011)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : the poetry a bit lost in translation, but still a lot of sly charm

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Hindu* . 2/4/2012 Ranjita Biswas
Indian Literature* . 11-12/2005 Nivedita Sen
TLS* . 16/9/2011 Seamus Perry

[* refers to review of a different translation]

  From the Reviews:
  • "Even considering the huge span of his work, Shesher Kavita remains one of Rabindranath Tagore's outstanding creations. The novel combines prose and poetry in a fine trellis-work to tell the love story of Lavanya and Amit." - Ranjita Biswas, The Hindu

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 main character in Farewell my Friend is Amit Rai. He inherited more than enough to live in comfort, and though he is a ostensibly a barrister, he doesn't practice much law, or any other profession -- though he does dabble in poetry. Tagore introduces him as something a Bengali fop and dandy, tending to affectation -- as, for example:

Aiming at a more original name, Amit saw to it that his English friends of both sexes pronounced it as Amit Rayé.
     Amit is obsessed with style -- not only in his literary preferences, but in his dress, outfit and manners as well.
       He has two sisters -- "whose pet-names are Cissie and Lissie" -- who move around easily in Calcutta high society. Amit does too, even if he makes an effort to stand out -- "He generally wears Bengali dress, for the simple reason that it is not in vogue in his set", for example, and annoys his sister with his: "habit of saying shocking things". Amit also doesn't show any signs of wanting to settle down: his "friends and relatives have given up all hope of his ever getting married".
       When everyone leaves the city in the summer he does too -- but his contrarian streak sees him head to Shillong instead of Darjeeling (where his sisters go). Typically:
     Amit had announced to everybody that he was going to Shillong to enjoy solitude. Before long, however, he discovered that the absence of a crowd somehow took the relish off the solitude.
       But it is here he encounters a young, well-educated and well-read woman working as a private tutor, Labanyalata, and falls head over heels in love with her. He changes his ways, even settling in in a comically uncomfortable house, the only one he can find to rent -- but any sacrifice is worthwhile. He wins her over and proposes marriage -- but when the sisters and others from his set show up the plans are upset. As the title of the novel -- also in the closer-to-the-original 'The Last Poem' -- has portended, their would-be union is not everlasting.
       Farewell my Friend is a distinctly -- and amusingly -- literary novel. A narrator -- rather hidden from view for the most part -- introduces himself early on, "a new writer with a very limited number of readers", who cheerfully acknowledges his lack of literary success:
I believe that my writings are distinguished by style -- which is why all my books have attained nirvana, that liberation from rebirth, in the very first edition.
       It's an amusing guise for Tagore to assume -- the Nobel laureate was the leading writer of his time, truly already legendary -- but Tagore takes it a notch further, as his writing becomes a frequent reference-point for the characters and story. It begins with Amit as chairman of a local literary group addressing it at a gathering to discuss the poetry of Tagore -- and arguing that Tagore is a relic, and that it's time to move on. (In Tagore's place he also proposes a new young light, Nibaran Chakravarty -- which is of course a pen name Amit writes under.)
       Tagore's playful use of his own poetry and self is charming and adds a nice twist, from Amit quoting some lines from a Tagore poem that Labanya does not recognize, forcing Amit to come up with an explanation of how he came to be familiar with an unpublished Tagore-poem, to Amit arguing that:
Rabindranath is always harping, on the things that pass away; he doesn't know how to sing of what abides.
       Tagore even has some fun with the book's Tagore-obsession, Labanya laughing at Amit as she notes: "Even those who love Rabindranath do not recall him as often as you do."
       This clever approach to his own work and standing, and the way many of the characters often act, takes Farewell my Friend into comic territory, and it is a very amusing read. But it is also an affecting love story -- and ultimately a lost-love story (it doesn't give away too much to reveal that things don't work out; as noted, surely readers saw that coming from the title page). Amit changes his ways, even his personality when he falls for and woos Labanya, and tries to prove he is worthy, but his circle and his past are difficult to escape -- yet another reflection of Tagore's own (literary) position and situation.
       Poetry -- Tagore's and alter-Tagore's (i.e. Amit-as-Nibaran Chakravarty's) -- plays a central role in the novel, right down to its concluding 'last poem' (the Bengali title of the book), a summing-up farewell. Translator Kripalani admits to the difficulty of capturing and rendering "the artistry of the author's style" in English in a Translator's Note, and he fares better with the prose than the poetry; it doesn't help that, for example, a footnote to the first longer verse-example acknowledges: "The English rendering is a bare skeleton of the original poem which is much longer in size".
       Farewell my Friend feels a bit rough in translation, but the descriptions and presentation of the characters are still very sharp and clever (and often amusing), and the basic story comes across quite well. If much of the poetry is lost, there's still enough of it, and all in all Farewell my Friend is an enjoyable and touching short read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 31 May 2016

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Farewell my Friend: Reviews [* refers to review of a different translation]: Rabindranath Tagore: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Bengali author Rabindranath Tagore (রবীন্দ্রনাথ ঠাকুর) lived 1861 to 1941. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913.

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