ROOMS ARE NEVER FINISHED

Agha Shahid Ali, Author, Shahid Ali Agha, Author . Norton $22 (106p) ISBN 978-0-393-04149-1

The direct inspiration for Ali's new volume was his mother's death and the subsequent journey back to his homeland of Kashmir with her body. In his prose introduction, mother and motherland are strangely, strongly linked, and Ali, who has made a career of lyric ponderings of the permutations of exile and expatriate life, is left to negotiate the landscape of loss, its contours altered by the intrusion of the intensely personal. Ali has always been the one "with laments found lost on my lips," the post-colonial poet mourning dead aspects of his native culture while championing the complexity of his tripartite heritage. In The Country Without a Post Office, these themes were galvanized by the eruption of internecine war in Indian-held Kashmir, and by Ali's adoption of the tightly repetitive, traditional Arabic form of the ghazal. This latest volume balances formal elegy with a deliberate refusal to "finish rooms," figured perhaps most poignantly by the refusal to complete the well-known religious truism—"There is no God but"—and with more intellectualized musings on homecoming, heritage and the ravages of civil war. In this context, the repetitive ghazal replicates the keening of a mourning relative and the structure offered by tradition, while its line-by-line changes mark a way out of the repetitive cycles of historical violence. "Exiled by exiles" gives way to "two destinies at last reconciled by exiles." Ali's attempts to reconcile his Muslim, Hindu and Western heritage (which draws on James Merrill's mysticism) and to quiet his cries of anguish, work to assuage grief without denying that "the loved one always leaves." The book has been nominated as a National Book Award finalist. (Nov.)

Reviewed on: 10/22/2001
Release date: 11/01/2001
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Paperback - 112 pages - 978-0-393-32416-7
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