Zulfikar Ghose Introduction - Essay


Zulfikar Ghose 1935-

Pakistani novelist, poet, essayist, short story writer, literary critic, and autobiographer.

The following entry provides an overview of Ghose's career through 1996. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volume 42.

Often experimental in form and theme, Ghose's works are infused with realism, magic-realism, metaphor, symbolism, and allegory to create a metaphysical reality. He frequently employs mimetic strategies within his writing to force the reader to re-examine the purpose of the text. Ghose implicitly challenges the reader to acknowledge that storyline and language are secondary to a piece of writing and are merely tools the author manipulates to convey his message. His work often expresses the viewpoint of a culturally alienated individual and relates not only to his own sense of displacement from his homeland, but suggests a wider response to life in a post-colonial society.

Biographical Information

Ghose was born in 1935 in Sialkot. At the time of his birth, Sialkot was a part of India, but after the partition of India in 1947, the city became part of Pakistan. Although his family is Muslim, in 1942 they moved to Bombay, a primarily Hindu city. At the time of the partition and India's subsequent independence from Britain, Muslim-Hindu relations became violently unstable. In 1952 Ghose and his family moved to England. He attended secondary school in Chelsea and in 1955 enrolled in the University of Keele. At Keele he was introduced to fellow poets B. S. Johnson and John Fuller and also to “The Group”—a collective of poets that included Peter Porter, Anthony Smith, George MacBeth, and Peter Redgrove. Ghose received his B.A. in 1959 and began working as a sports journalist, part-time literary critic, and teacher, all the while submitting poems to periodicals. In 1964 he published his first collection of poetry, The Loss of India, as well as a collection of short stories written with B. S. Johnson, Statement against Corpses. He wrote his autobiography, Confessions of a Native-Alien (1965) at the age of thirty; his first novel, The Contradictions (1966), was released a year later. In 1969 Ghose accepted a professorship at the University of Texas, Austin, a position he still holds today.

Major Works

In much of his poetry Ghose examines the theme of the outsider seeking his place in the world. The Loss of India focuses on the bittersweet nostalgia Ghose feels for his homeland despite his fondness for life in the West. The poems in this collection are autobiographical in theme and contain many references to nature. The poems in Jets from Orange (1967) similarly evoke impressions of movement and rootlessness, but focus more on change and industry rather than nature. In The Violent West (1972), Ghose records his observations of his new homeland, Texas, and is increasingly introspective regarding his displacement from the East. The poems in this collection are more experimental in form and style than those in his previous collections. A Memory of Asia: New and Selected Poems (1984) and Selected Poems (1991) provide an overview of Ghose's poetry.

The theme of cultural dislocation is dominant in Ghose's first novel, The Contradictions, in which an English woman is unable to find her place, either in her homeland or in the unfamiliar society of India, where her husband is stationed. In his next novel, The Murder of Aziz Khan (1967), Ghose broadens his range of characters and concerns to relate a story of a Pakistani farmer's unsuccessful attempt to resist three unscrupulous brothers from usurping his land. Ghose's fascination with the enduring human spirit is also evident in his acclaimed Brazilian Trilogy, which spans four centuries of Brazilian history. The first volume, The Incredible Brazilian: The Native (1972), recounts the adventures of Gregório, the son of a rich plantation owner, and provides a vivid portrait of seventeenth-century Brazil. Gregório appears again in The Beautiful Empire (1975), which follows his life through a succession of triumphs and failures during the late 1800s, a time of change and development in Brazil. The vision of Brazil as a tempestuous, vibrant environment is also present in the last volume of the trilogy, A Different World (1978), in which Gregório reappears as a revolutionary in a contemporary setting. Ghose returns to an English locale in Crump's Terms (1975), a fanciful novel in which a schoolteacher reminisces about the events of his life in stream-of-consciousness prose that sometimes takes the form of dialogue with his students. Hulme's Investigations into the Bogart Script (1981) is even more unconventional, combining a variety of narrative styles and techniques in an exploration of language, words, and their meaning. Ghose's next two novels closely resemble the Brazilian trilogy in tone and setting. A New History of Torments (1982) is the story of a South American ranch family whose tranquility is permanently disturbed by a curse brought on by the father's affair with a young woman. Don Bueno (1983) also involves a family curse, this one handed down from generation to generation, and it, too, is a vivid, epic tale set in South America. Ghose again addresses exile and displacement in Figures of Enchantment (1986), a novel that is also set in South America and is a rewriting of William Shakespeare's The Tempest. In The Triple Mirror of the Self (1992) the setting is split among South America, England, and pre-partitioned India. The main focus of the novel is the quest by one man to uncover the mystery surrounding a partial autobiography of a man with whom he is merely acquainted. The story proceeds in reverse chronological order and the answer to the mystery lies in India.

Ghose has also published two collections of short stories, Statement against Corpses (1964) and Veronica and the Gongora Passion: Stories, Fictions, Tales, and One Fable (1998), and an autobiography Confessions of a Native-Alien. His critical volumes Hamlet, Prufrock, and Language (1978), The Fiction of Reality (1984), The Art of Creating Fiction (1991), and Shakespeare's Mortal Knowledge (1993), present Ghose's ideas regarding technique and reality in fiction.

Critical Reception

Ghose is a prolific writer, but his writing is not always widely reviewed because of the experimental and non-traditional aspects of many of his works. Ghose's literary criticism has earned praise for his skillful and compelling presentation of ideas. His earlier poems are characterized by vivid imagery and nostalgia for India/Pakistan. Many reviewers have also noted the influence of “The Group” on these early poems and emphasize Ghose's careful construction and attention to technique. His later poetry is considered groundbreaking in form and style, imaginative in theme, and focused more on the art and mechanics of poetry. Commentators praise Ghose's manipulation of technique to achieve his effects. In his poetry at times the meter or form abruptly changes to draw attention away from the “story” of the poem and to lead the reader to focus on the mechanics of the poem, while in fiction Ghose often uses mimetic ploys that lead nowhere, forcing the reader to rethink the reality of words versus the reality of the larger story. His fiction is difficult to classify, but is noted for embodying aspects of post-colonial literature, magic realism, stream-of-consciousness, fantasy, and allegory. Some commentators find that Ghose's experimental style detracts from the story and frustrates the reader, while others applaud these techniques because they engage the reader to become active in the search for reality in the text. The novels in his Brazilian trilogy, while less experimental, were more widely reviewed, garnered higher acclaim, and were accepted by a broader range of readership. Some critics believe that Ghose's writing is at its best when he relaxes his form, as in the Brazilian trilogy and in his more recent poetic endeavors, and when he writes from a more personal point of view, as in The Triple Mirror of the Self.