Sound-Shadows of the New World Critical Context - Essay

Ved Mehta

Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

As noted above, Sound-Shadows of the New World is the fifth installment in a serial autobiography; excerpts from a sixth installment, following Mehta to Pomona College in California, appeared in The New Yorker in 1987 and 1988. Two qualities distinguish Mehta’s ongoing autobiography from most products of the genre: the copious detail of his account, and his perspective as a blind person.

By the time Sound-Shadows of the New World appeared, the scope of Mehta’s project had become evident, and some reviewers found fault with the pace of his narrative. It had taken him five books simply to get himself through high school; why did he not simply tell his life story once and for all and have done with it? Such objections miss the intent of Mehta’s work, which is more than a chronicle of events. While his style is unpretentious, his ambitions are high: He seeks to re-create the growth of a mind, the shaping of consciousness from childhood through youth and into adulthood. His is a philosophical autobiography grounded in the particulars—the trivia, even—of everyday life.

Add to that the unique contribution of the work as a document of a blind person’s experience, and one can begin to appreciate Mehta’s achievement. Of the autobiography’s installments, Sound-Shadows of the New World is one of the richest, as it recounts Mehta’s immersion in an entirely new culture. Its virtues, though, are representative of the entire series.