In his autobiographical memoir My Days: A Memoir (1974), R. K. Narayan declared that Grateful to Life and Death was the most autobiographical of all of his novels, very little of it, in his account, being fiction. This statement must immediately arouse doubt, if not skepticism. One can see how the start of the book, with its quasi-satirical picture of the protagonist, Krishna, teaching at Albert Mission College, could be drawn from Narayan’s memories of his own schooling at the Lutheran Mission School in Madras and the Maharaja’s Collegiate High School in Mysore. Furthermore, the pivotal event of the book, the death of Krishna’s wife, Susila, is very clearly based on the tragic death of Narayan’s own wife, Rajam, from typhoid, in June, 1939—a bereavement which left him, like his fictional hero, with a young daughter to rear on his own. What is harder to accept—though there is something close to a direct assertion by Narayan of its truth— is the last part of the book, in which the hero succeeds in establishing closer and closer contact with his dead wife, culminating in a transcendent moment of union and joy. Can this be credited? To ask a question more relevant in literary terms, does Narayan succeed in anything but an autobiographical way in unifying what appears to be a series of different threads of his hero and first-person narrator’s experience?
At first sight, one has to answer no to the last question. The mood of Grateful to Life and Death keeps changing unpredictably. The first sections are of a...
(The entire section is 638 words.)