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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Chronicle of the Peacocks

Intizar Husain

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To purchase A Chronicle of the Peacocks

Title: A Chronicle of the Peacocks
Author: Intizar Husain
Genre: Stories
Written: (Eng. 2002)
Length: 262 pages
Original in: Urdu
Availability: A Chronicle of the Peacocks - US
A Chronicle of the Peacocks - UK
A Chronicle of the Peacocks - Canada
A Chronicle of the Peacocks - India
  • Stories of Partition, Exile and Lost Memories
  • A selection of stories originally published in Urdu between 1952 and 1999
  • Translated by Alok Bhalla and Vishwamitar Adil
  • With an Introduction by Alok Bhalla
  • Includes an Interview with the author
  • Includes a Glossary

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Our Assessment:

B+ : fine selection, fine stories

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Hindu . 2/3/2003 Keki N. Daruwalla
India Today . 3/3/2003 Gillian Wright

  From the Reviews:
  • "One gets the impression that in A Chronicle of the Peacocks Intizar Husain is trying to dig into some other reality than the quotidian one we face. And that ain't a cakewalk, buddy. (...) Intizar Husain's stories often tread that twilight zone between fable and parable. And the narrative is spun on an oriental loom -- reminiscent of A Thousand and One Nights or the Jataka tales, each story becoming an offshoot of the previous one and an embryo of the next tale. And his command over the narrative lies in the fact that never once does the reader feels let down. (...) The book has been edited flawlessly by Mini Krishnan, with a fine introduction by Professor Alok Bhalla, an extensive glossary, and an informative interview with the author." - Keki N. Daruwalla, The Hindu

  • "His characters' blank incomprehension in the face of wisdom reflects the confusion in our world. If he still writes of Partition, it is because he is trying to see if he can find meaning in the deaths of so many people, and because he believes that the struggle of the exile is the most unique and difficult one of our times." - Gillian Wright, India Today

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:

       A Chronicle of the Peacocks collects fifteen stories by Urdu writer Intizar Husain published over more than four decades, from 1952 to 1999. Born in India, he moved to Pakistan after the Partition (of the two countries), and much of his work is colored by that. As he explains in an interview included in this volume:

I have, in my lifetime, undergone an experience of epic proportions. I must deal with it if I have to say something worthwhile about the history of the subcontinent. When my critics object and tell me that I am obsessed by the experience of the Partition, trapped in it, my response is that what happened in 1947 was so complex, so utterly devastating, that I have yet to understand it fully. How can I get away from it ?
       Fortunately, however, the collection is much more varied than his statements would suggest -- and much of the Partition-issue is already well-covered in the opening story, An Unwritten Epic. What begins as a straightforward story of a village in India and the post-1947 transition, with many of the Muslim villagers leaving for Pakistan (and the name of the village changed by those who move in), switches abruptly in its second half into the diary-entries of a writer trying to finish the story. The central figure the writer fixates on is Pichwa, a fearless local who: "fought without reason or purpose; he fought for the sake of fighting". But the writer can not come to grips with post-Partition life -- just as Pichwa can't.
       The writer finds that:
In any case, this is not the age of great poetry. There are no heroic figures now about whom epics can be written.
       And, indeed, he also finds:
     I seem to be slowly losing my desire to write. Sometimes I blame myself for it, sometimes society. Whenever I pick up my pen, people start shouting, 'Pakistan zindabad,' ['Long live Pakistan'] so loudly that the pen falls from my hand. There is a continuous chatter about 'constructive literature' around me. I can't hear anything else in the din. What is this animal called 'constructive literature' ? Everything is recognized by its relation to its opposite. I have yet to come across 'destructive literature'. If literature is not 'destructive', how can it be 'constructive' ? Literature is neither constructive not destructive; it is only literature.
       None of the other stories switch as abruptly from one form of narrative to another, but in many of them Husain does use smaller shifts to similar effect. Several nest stories within stories, often with a character facing a dilemma seeking advice or wisdom from someone, and receiving that advice or wisdom in the form of a story (instead of -- sometimes to their frustration -- getting a straight answer ...). It's a familiar strategy, but Husain does it well.
       Somewhat surprisingly, many of the stories rely extensively on traditional Indian myths, fables, religion, and tradition, instead of simply Islamic tradition. In The Boat Husain artfully mixes variations of the Flood-story -- with both Gilgamesh and Noah -- in a timeless take on the story that is also a commentary on contemporary dislocation -- including that feeling of being at sea in the world ..... The Story of the Parrot and the Mynah is entirely populated by birds, unable to comprehend the lack of wisdom found among humans.
       Other stories are realistic depictions of contemporary life, including Barium Carboante, with its description of modernization and transition -- and a plague of rats that comes with some of the advances. And the very good title story even addresses "the terrifying news about India's atomic bomb" -- though, typically (and artfully), indirectly.
       A Chronicle of the Peacocks is a fine collection of stories and, as it also includes a longer interview with the author, an excellent introduction to a writer who clearly deserves greater recognition beyond the subcontinent. Husain is a creative and talented writer, and while his stories offer something truly foreign -- this writing has little that is recognizably 'Western' to it -- they also read well in this translation, with almost none of the stilted awkwardness often found in translations of work by Asian authors. (The translators leave a number of terms in the original (with English equivalents presented in the extensive Glossary), and that also helps the text read quite smoothly.)
       A very good introduction to an important (and talented) writer and his work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 1 January 2010

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A Chronicle of the Peacocks: Reviews: Other books by Intizar Husain under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Indian-born Intizar Husain (انتظار حسین) (1925-2016), moved to Pakistan after the Partition. He was a leading Urdu author.

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