Sunday, December 7, 2008

A STUTTER OF UNKNOWING

In an essay in the forthcoming issue of the Jewish Quarterly, I argue the completely unoriginal position that fiction is magic -- that (some of) it (perchance) (might) transform(s) or even shock(s) the world into truth.

I just finished reading a novel that does just that: Nadeem Aslam's exquisite The Wasted Vigil. It's a book set in Afghanistan and in the present day (martyr bombings, warlords, CIA), but with the lingering Soviet occupation and the thug of Cold War as part of its internal memory. And it's all set in one village, and mainly in one house. Which has books nailed to the ceiling and frescoes covered in mud. Once Mr. Aslam gets his impulse to insert preciously poetic metaphors under control (around page 85 or so) the novel becomes hallucinogenicly good. As in: another one of those rare clear and clever meditations on the imperiousness of Evil, and how we are all perpetrators while we are all thinking we are g*d-(or govt-)sent agents of Good. In the course of the novel Good and Evil lose their capitals and humanity loses, and thereby gains, its humanity. Not a feel-good book, but definitely a feel-true book.

I say wow.

This book will of course be completely ignored States-side, because written by a Pakistani Brit about some funky-smelling business we USA-types are actually engaged in, and because the American literary world (7 acres in Midtown Manhattan) is too busy discussing, amongst itself, some recent allegations of insularity, like the prolonged SNL skit they have finally become.

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