Meena Alexander Criticism - Essay

John Oliver Perry (essay date Winter-Spring 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Exiled by a Woman's Body: Substantial Phenomena in Meena Alexander's Poetry," in Journal of South Asian Literature, Vol. 21, No. 1, Winter-Spring, 1986, pp. 125-32.

[In the following essay, Perry examines various manifestations of "exile" in Alexander's poetry, especially in relation to gender, language, and politics.]

[If the exile's] body cannot appropriate its given landscape,… the substantial body dwindles into phantasm…. Language … degenerates into a dead script when the bodily power of a people no longer instills it with particularity, no longer appropriates it in the expression of a emergent selfhood…. In the battle between...

(The entire section is 3736 words.)

John Oliver Perry (review date Winter 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of House of a Thousand Doors, in World Literature Today, Vol. 63, No. 1, Winter, 1989, p. 163.

[In the following review, Perry sketches the thematic concerns and associated characters of House of a Thousand Doors.]

In a 1986 essay on Meena Alexander for the Journal of South Asian Literature, "Exiled by a Woman's Body," I praised the then-forthcoming volume House of a Thousand Doors and characterized the author as a substantially developed South Asian immigrant writer. Unhappily in the interim, despite publication of many of the collection's poems and brief poetic prose pieces in over a dozen different, often internationally known...

(The entire section is 628 words.)

Ben Downing (review date April 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Storm, in Village Voice Literary Supplement, No. 84, April, 1990, p. 9.

[In the following review, Downing outlines the structure of The Storm, centering on the thematic significance of ritual.]

In her introduction, Meena Alexander compares The Storm to "the stiff palmyra fans grandmother had hung to the wall" during Alexander's early childhood in Kerala, South India. The autobiographical poem, by invoking "the poise of a ritualised order," serves as an artifact that rescues the ancestral memory of its creator from oblivion. Elaborating the analogy, Alexander cautions that such recoveries can only be momentary, incomplete:...

(The entire section is 718 words.)

John Oliver Perry (review date Spring 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Nampally Road, in World Literature Today, Vol. 65, No. 2, Spring, 1991, pp. 364-65.

[In the following review, Perry considers the narrative implications of the feminist sociopolitical perspective of Nampally Road.]

Based, naturally, on her own experience, Nampally Road, the first novel by Meena Alexander, India's foremost woman poet in English, for the past decade living in America, was begun in 1979, while she still lived and taught in Hyderabad. Her heroine Mira, who, like Meena, had just spent four years earning a Ph.D. dealing with Wordsworth at Nottingham University, now finds herself trying to understand her relationship as a...

(The entire section is 791 words.)

Nina Mehta (review date Fall 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Teaching the Sylvan Swami," in Belles Lettres, Vol. 7, No. 1, Fall, 1991, p. 46.

[In the following review, Mehta praises the ironic tone and confident narration of Nampally Road.]

When the priest, the butcher, the psychiatrist, and the candlestick maker can't explain and organize the world teeming around us, there's always the poet. Or so Mira Kannadical thinks. After four years of graduate school in England, Mira has found her guru: Wordsworth. She'll return to India, teach a course on her sylvan swami at a local college in Hyderabad and write poetry that will "stitch it all together: my birth in India a few years after national independence, my colonial...

(The entire section is 720 words.)

Nicola Trott (review date November 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Women in Romanticism, in Review of English Studies, Vol. 43, No. 172, November, 1992, pp. 569-71.

[In the following excerpt, Trott examines the methodology and themes of Women in Romanticism, noting the defects and strengths of Alexander's views.]

Meena Alexander takes Wollstonecraft to be a woman in Romanticism, rather than a precursor. Her book [Women in Romanticism] is most keenly aware, though, of the ways in which the term needs to be redefined if women writers are to have a place of their own within the Romantic estate. The three women in question—Wollstonecraft, Wordsworth, and Shelley, two tragically...

(The entire section is 580 words.)

Bruce King (review date Spring 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Night-Scene, the Garden, in World Literature Today, Vol. 67, No. 2, Spring, 1993, p. 444.

[In the following review, King situates the themes, structure, and voice of Night-Scene, the Garden in the context of Alexander's other poetry collections.]

A Syrian Christian Indian, Meena Alexander attended university in the Sudan, wrote her first poetry in French, wrote a British doctoral dissertation on German phenomenology, then returned to India, where she published three books of poetry before marrying an American. She now teaches English literature in New York. Someone for whom poetry is more a process—usually consisting of intensely...

(The entire section is 491 words.)

Maria Couto (review date 7 April 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Voices of Empire," in Times Literary Supplement, No. 4697, April 7, 1993, p. 22.

[In the following review, Couto traces the influence and thematic significance of colonialism in Fault Lines.]

Both these books—one a memoir [Fault Lines by Meena Alexander], the other a vivid and enthralling playback of voices [Unbecoming Daughters of the Empire by Shirley Chew and Anna Rutherford, eds.]—unfold private lives stamped by Empire and shaped by emerging forces of independence and nationalism. Meena Alexander, an Indian poet, novelist and academic now based in New York, makes clear that the geographical and cultural disruptions in her life compel her...

(The entire section is 682 words.)

Lauren Glen Dunlap (review date Summer 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Fault Lines, in Belles Lettres, Vol. 8, No. 4, Summer, 1993, p. 43.

[In the following review, Dunlap notes the stylistic features of Fault Lines.]

Like Daly and Behar, poet Meena Alexander employs images of weaving and crossing borders in Fault Lines. A dizzying multiplicity of threads and borders distinguishes this memoir by an Indian woman who has lived many places and speaks many languages. There is a litany of cities within India: Khartoum, where she entered university at age 13; Nottingham, where she began her doctorate at 18; and that city where she currently lives, "where the whole world swarms," New York. And the languages:...

(The entire section is 387 words.)

Shilpa Davé (essay date 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Doors to Home and History: Post-Colonial Identities in Meena Alexander and Bharati Mukherjee," in Amerasia Journal, Vol. 19, No. 3, 1993, pp. 103-13.

[In the following essay, Davé compares the narrative strategies of Bharati Mukherjee's Middleman and Other Stories and Alexander's Nampally Road, concentrating on their different approaches to and uses of Western stereotyped definitions of cultural identity.]

The very practice of remembering and rewriting leads to the formation of politicized consciousness and self-identity. Writing often becomes the context through which new political identities are forged. It becomes a...

(The entire section is 4272 words.)

Susheela N. Rao (review date Autumn 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Fault Lines, in World Literature Today, Vol. 68, No. 4, Autumn, 1994, p. 883.

[In the following review, Rao emphasizes the variety of cultural experiences related in Fault Lines.]

Traditionally, Indian writers have fought shy of talking about themselves, and of the great classical writers of India like Kalidasa we know very little. Under the increasing impact of the West, however, more and more Indian writers, mostly Indo-Anglian writers, have been recording their life histories. Autobiographies and memoirs of Indian writers who write in English have now become a familiar and accepted fact of twentieth-century India, and the age at which they...

(The entire section is 441 words.)

Helena Grice (review date 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Fault Lines, in Amerasia Journal, Vol. 22, No. 2, 1996, pp. 164-66.

[In the following review, Grice offers a thematic and stylistic overview of Fault Lines in terms of an evolving, multi-ethnic, autobiographical tradition among women of the diaspora.]

Meena Alexander's Fault Lines locates itself in that in-between generic territory already occupied by another Asian American woman, Maxine Hong Kingston. Both subtitled "memoirs," The Woman Warrior and Fault Lines, are situated in the literal no-man's land of women's autobiographical writings of the diaspora experience. The similarities extend beyond the subtitle....

(The entire section is 860 words.)

Tammie Bob (review date 25 May 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Three Indian American Writers Examine Cultural Conflict and Identity," in Chicago Tribune Books, May 25, 1997, pp. 1, 9.

[In the following excerpt, Bob highlights postcolonial identity issues explored in Manhattan Music.]

The issues of identity and cultural displacement are the core of Meena Alexander's novel Manhattan Music. She has assembled a large, urbane and angst-ridden international cast of artists, poets, business figures and academics, all partly shaped by terror and violence. The central figure, Sandhya Rosenblum, has come to America as the wife of a Jewish man and lost herself in the process. She drifts into an affair with an Egyptian...

(The entire section is 478 words.)

John Oliver Perry (review date Autumn 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of River and Bridge, in World Literature Today, Vol. 71, No. 4, Autumn, 1997, pp. 867-8.

[In the following review, Perry considers the principal themes, motifs, and style of River and Bridge.]

To indicate how difficult book publication is even for important Indian English poets, it may be noted that River and Bridge was substantially ready in 1988 or at least 1990, the manuscript then opening with an India-referring title poem used later for the fine closing note: "Deer Park at Sarnath," which thoughtfully, not at all sadly, ends, "There is no grief like this, / the origin of landscape is memory." Then in 1995 Rupa in New Delhi published...

(The entire section is 1060 words.)

Susheela N. Rao (review date Spring 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Manhattan Music, in World Literature Today, Vol. 72, No. 2, Spring, 1998, pp. 456-7.

[In the following review, Rao admires the narrative technique of Manhattan Music.]

What purports to be the lives and living thoughts and feelings, and problems and promises of a more recent immigrant group—namely, Indians from India living in the New York/New Jersey area—is orchestrated in the novel Manhattan Music by a successful Indian immigrant, who, herself having been exposed to a number of places and countries outside her own home in Kerala in the southern part of India, shows a sensitive awareness of the state of the immigrants. In this...

(The entire section is 503 words.)