cover image This Could Have Become Ramayan Chamar’s Tale: Two Anti-Novels

This Could Have Become Ramayan Chamar’s Tale: Two Anti-Novels

Subimal Misra, trans. from the Bengali by V. Ramaswamy. Open Letter, $15.95 trade paper (296p) ISBN 978-1-948830-15-7

In two parts, Bengali author Misra’s challenging, inventive English-language debut strings together a series of images that lay bare the deprivations of the underclasses in early 1980s Kolkata, and opens with a manifesto against the “bougesoie humanism” of conventional literature. In the first part, the police kill Ramayan Chamar following his involvement in a communist uprising on a tea plantation. Ramayan’s story is repeatedly interrupted by a swirl of unconnected, tragic vignettes: Malati, a 12-year-old girl, languishes for six years in jail following an arrest for scavenging food from the garbage, and police impassively watch a gang chase a half-naked woman through the city. In the more abstract second part, a husband renounces his wife after she teases him for his mispronunciations; a young man begs for a job; and, in a scathing, almost farcical critique of India’s health care system, a man dies in a hospital due to negligence and lack of supplies. Misra intrudes on the text in asides, defending his impressionistic, fractured style (“the story has to convey many-more-things besides the story”), and makes exciting use of techniques inspired by filmmaking, from zooming into text on a page to accentuating a prominent character by describing him through a low-angle-shot. This dense, politically charged text is a fine achievement in experimental fiction. (July)