Most discussions of India’s First War of Independence from British colonial rule in 1857 have centered on the role played by the Mughal emperor, the nawab of Awadh, and other sundry members of mostly urban nobility. What has remained missing from this coverage is how ordinary people across the countryside experienced the rebellion and how they passed their stories down to the following generations. In 1957, eminent Hindi writer Amritlal Nagar set out to correct this, travelling through villages and towns scattered across India’s heartland and painstakingly gathering reminiscences and popular ballads about the revolt—its celebrated and unsung heroes, its survivors and martyrs, and where and how various battles were fought. Aging courtesans, bedridden octogenarians, and nameless singers poured their hearts out to Nagar, and the substantial volume he put together made it clear, even to the lay reader, that nothing can stop the spread of a revolution whose time has come.
Translated from Hindi for the first time by Mrinal Pande, Gathering the Ashes is a poignant look into history, enriched by Pande’s useful afterword and a reminiscence by Nagar’s son.
In The Glance of the Medusa, Lászó F. Földényi offers a mesmerizing examination of the rich history of European culture through the lens of mythology and philosophy. Embracing the best traditions of essay writing, this volume invites readers on a spiritual and intellectual adventure. The seven essays bear testimony to Földényi’s encyclopedic knowledge and ask whether it is possible to overcome our fear of passing away. In doing so, they illuminate moments of mystical experience viewed in a historical perspective while inviting readers to engage with such moments in the present by immersing themselves into the process of reading and thinking.
Rather than providing firm answers to burning questions, The Glance of the Medusa highlights the limits of definition, conjuring up situations in which Man partakes of unutterable experiences—such as passion, pleasure, fear, poetry, or disgust—suggesting that moments of ecstasy cannot be pinned down or captured, only drawn a little closer.
The thirteen stories of Michael Krüger’s The God behind the Window capture the poignancy and cynicism of late life through tales of misanthropic old men full of the mixture of wisdom and melancholy that so often accompanies old age. In Krüger’s stories, world-weary characters seek—and only temporarily find—solace in nature and culture, rendering their search for a better life simultaneously comedic and heart wrenching. From a solitary hiker in the Swiss Alps to the book’s eponymous shut-in, these aging malcontents are continually surprised by the unexpected interventions of a world that has come to seem predictable. Krüger captures this stage in life masterfully, contrasting the deeply personal emotions of affection, melancholy, and longing with an indifferent world. The resulting stories are lyrical, philosophical, and tender despite their cynicism.
Thomas Bernhard Seagull Books, 2019 Library of Congress PT2662.E7G6413 2016 | Dewey Decimal 833.91
This collection of four stories by the writer George Steiner called “one of the masters of European fiction” is, as longtime fans of Thomas Bernhard would expect, bleakly comic and inspiringly rancorous. The subject of his stories vary: in one, Goethe summons Wittgenstein to discuss the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus; “Montaigne: A Story (in 22 Installments)” tells of a young man sealing himself in a tower to read; “Reunion,” meanwhile, satirizes that very impulse to escape; and the final story rounds out the collection by making Bernhard himself a victim, persecuted by his greatest enemy—his very homeland of Austria. Underpinning all these variously comic, tragic, and bitingly satirical excursions is Bernhard’s abiding interest in, and deep knowledge of, the philosophy of doubt.
Bernhard’s work can seem off-putting on first acquaintance, as he suffers no fools and offers no hand to assist the unwary reader. But those who make the effort to engage with Bernhard on his own uncompromising terms will discover a writer with powerful comic gifts, penetrating insight into the failings and delusions of modern life, and an unstinting desire to tell the whole, unvarnished, unwelcome truth. Start here, readers; the rewards are great.
Is it possible to fight for social justice if you’ve never really loved another person? Can you save a country if you’re in love?
Forty-six-year-old Anton Stöver’s marriage is broken. His affairs are a thing of the past, and his career at the university has reached a dead end. One day he is offered the chance to go to Rome to conduct research on Antonio Gramsci, at one time the leading figure of Italian communism. Once there, he falls obsessively in love with a young woman he has met, while continuing to focus his attention on the past: the frail and feverish Gramsci recovering in a Soviet sanatorium. Though Gramsci is supposed to save Italy from Mussolini’s seizure of power, he falls in love with a Russian comrade instead. With a subtle sense of the absurd, Nora Bossong explores the conflicts between having intense feelings for another and fighting for great ideals.
“On the day of the Great Fall he left nothing, nothing at all behind.”
The latest work by Peter Handke, one of our greatest living writers, chronicles a day in life of an aging actor as he makes his way on foot from the outskirts of a great metropolis into its center. He is scheduled to receive a prestigious award that evening from the country’s president, and the following day he is supposed to start shooting for a film—perhaps his last—in which he plays a man who runs amok. While passing through a forest, he encounters the outcasts of the society—homeless people and migrants—but he keeps trudging along, traversing a suburb whose inhabitants are locked in petty but mortal conflicts, crossing a seemingly unbridgeable superhighway, and wandering into an abandoned railyard, where police, unused to pedestrians, detain him briefly on suspicion of terrorism.
Things don’t improve when he reaches the heart of the city. There he can’t help but see the alienation characteristic of its residents and the omnipresent malign influence of electronic technology. What, then, is the “Great Fall”? What is this heart-wrenching, humorous, distinctively attentive narrative trying to tell us? As usual, Peter Handke, deeply introspective and powerfully critical of the world around him, leaves it to the reader to figure out.