Khushwant Singh Phoebe Lou Adams - Essay

Phoebe Lou Adams

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Khushwant Singh is unusual among the Indian novelists published in this country in that his novels deal directly with violence…. [I Shall Not Hear the Nightingale] is set in 1942 and is the story of a Sikh family divided over loyalty to the British raj. (p. 98)

The novel takes no sides politically. The English deputy commissioner is represented as a decent man trying to enforce reasonable laws, while Sher Singh's trigger-happy idiocy is all his own invention and no fault of the Indian party officially seeking independence. What the author sets out to portray is the confusion of mind among people who have given up, or are about to give up, their loyalty to one regime but have not yet found a substitute for it…. The author himself offers no solution.

Mr. Singh is a businesslike writer, not given to frills or subtlety. Even so, the novel is not entirely sober. There are mischievous caricatures of minor officials and fawning tradesmen and a scandalously funny episode in which the family's mistreated boy-of-all-work takes a Rabelaisian revenge. Mr. Singh gives the impression of being an artless and sometimes clumsy writer, but his major characters come to life, and their mistakes have the power to make the reader's conscience itch. (pp. 98-9)

Phoebe Lou Adams, "Men Without a Country," in The Atlantic Monthly (copyright © 1960 by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass.; reprinted with permission), January, 1960, pp. 98-9.