Zulfikar Ghose Essay - Critical Essays

Ghose, Zulfikar


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.

Principal Works

The Loss of India (poetry) 1964

Statement against Corpses [with B. S. Johnson] (short stories) 1964

Confessions of a Native-Alien (autobiography) 1965

The Contradictions (novel) 1966

Jets from Orange (poetry) 1967

The Murder of Aziz Khan (novel) 1967

The Incredible Brazilian: The Native (novel) 1972

The Violent West (poetry) 1972

Crump's Terms (novel) 1975

The Incredible Brazilian: The Beautiful Empire (novel) 1975

Hamlet, Prufrock, and Language (criticism) 1978

The Incredible Brazilian: A Different World (novel) 1978

Hulme's Investigations into the Bogart Script (novel) 1981

A New History of Torments (novel) 1982

Don Bueno (novel) 1983

The Fiction of Reality (criticism) 1984

A Memory of Asia: New and Selected Poems (poetry) 1984

Figures of Enchantment (novel) 1986

The Art of Creating Fiction (nonfiction) 1991

Selected Poems (poetry) 1991

The Triple Mirror of the Self (novel) 1992

Shakespeare's Mortal Knowledge (criticism) 1993

Veronica and the Gongora Passion: Stories, Fictions, Tales, and One Fable (short stories) 1998


Anne Barnes (review date 16 January 1976)

SOURCE: Barnes, Anne. Review of The Beautiful Empire, by Zulfikar Ghose. Times Literary Supplement, no. 3853 (16 January 1976): 65.

[In the following review, Barnes observes that Ghose's experimental prose in The Beautiful Empire is difficult to follow and detracts from the story.]

“I wandered the streets”, says the hero of The Beautiful Empire, “saying Brazil, Brazil with each step I took.” And as he does so he presents a squalid picture of the rubber trade in the Amazon jungle in the nineteenth century. Every sort of tawdry scene is crammed into the action to stress the excitement of Brazil: there is a selection of rape and brothel...

(The entire section is 289 words.)

Bilqis Siddiqi (review date winter 1977)

SOURCE: Siddiqi, Bilqis. Review of The Beautiful Empire, by Zulfikar Ghose. World Literature Today 51, no. 1 (winter 1977): 159.

[In the following review, Siddiqi praises Ghose's ironic prose in The Beautiful Empire.]

The Beautiful Empire is a checkered history of Gregorio Peixoto da Silva Xavier's life during the rubber boom in nineteenth-century Brazil. Son of a Brazilian father and English mother, he fights for Brazil, visits his widowed father in England after the war and returns to become fabulously rich as a rubber magnate, but chiefly as an owner of luxurious floating brothels. Times change, the Amazon loses its rubber monopoly, Gregorio's beloved...

(The entire section is 333 words.)

Marion Glastonbury (review date 10 September 1982)

SOURCE: Glastonbury, Marion. “Plain Terms.” New Statesman 104, no. 2686 (10 September 1982): 24.

[In the following excerpt, Glastonbury remarks that Ghose's style in A New History of Torments is trite and that his outlandish and repetitive use of symbolism is wearisome.]

The travels of Zulfikar Ghose, encompassing education in British India, a literary and journalistic career in England, and an associate professorship at the University of Texas, have also brought him to the Amazon Basin where A New History of Torments is set. This exotic version of the pastoral mode contains several wayfaring strangers who are welcomed by chance to sumptuous palaces...

(The entire section is 267 words.)

Review of Contemporary Fiction (review date 1983)

SOURCE: Review of Hamlet, Prufrock, and Language and Hulme's Investigations into the Bogart Script, by Zulfikar Ghose. Review of Contemporary Fiction 3, no. 3 (1983): 224-26.

[In the following review, the commentator examines Ghose's distinctive use of narration, style, and grammar in Hamlet, Prufrock and Language and Hulme's Investigations into the Bogart Script, suggesting that Ghose's experimentation with literary form and function is an exercise toward refining his signature style.]

Man knows that there are in the soul tints more bewildering, more numberless, and more nameless than the colours of an autumn forest. …...

(The entire section is 1776 words.)

Alamgir Hashmi (review date winter 1984)

SOURCE: Hashmi, Alamgir. Review of A New History of Torments, by Zulfikar Ghose. World Literature Today 58, no. 1 (winter 1984): 167-68.

[In the following review, Hashmi focuses on the symbolic elements in A New History of Torments and praises Ghose's imaginative poetic prose.]

Extracting elaborate narratives out of cunning riddles is a “fabulous” device. Zulfikar Ghose states that the title of the novel A New History of Torments was suggested by a poem by Pablo Neruda and that the titles of the two sections into which the novel is divided “are the two phrases in the penultimate line” in another poem by Neruda. These two section titles,...

(The entire section is 391 words.)

Zulfikar Ghose and Chelva Kanaganayakam (interview date 14 August 1984)

SOURCE: Ghose, Zulfikar, and Chelva Kanaganayakam. “Zulfikar Ghose: An Interview.” Twentieth Century Literature 32, no. 2 (summer 1986): 169-86.

[In the following interview conducted on August 14, 1984, Ghose describes the reasons for writing each of his novels, discusses authors and works that have influenced his writing, explains the evolution of his style, and critiques his poetic endeavors.]

Despite two decades of sustained literary activity, Zulfikar Ghose continues to remain relatively unknown in academic circles, hardly discussed in literary journals, and only tenuously linked to Commonwealth, British, and American writing. His refusal to be circumscribed by...

(The entire section is 7038 words.)

Merle Rubin (review date 26 August 1984)

SOURCE: Rubin, Merle. “Artifice below a Mask of Wonder.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (26 August 1984): 4.

[In the following review, Rubin analyzes the intricate mixture of realism and fantasy in Ghose's Don Bueno.]

Why should a Pakistani-born British poet, a novelist who lives in the United States and teaches at the University of Texas, write novels set in South America? Zulfikar Ghose's ninth novel, Don Bueno, travels a spectrum of South American landscapes, from steamy jungles of the interior to the Atlantic and Pacific seacoasts and the crystalline heights of the Andes.

More than a colorful background for adventure stories, however,...

(The entire section is 670 words.)

Wilson Harris (essay date summer 1989)

SOURCE: Harris, Wilson. “A Note on Zulfikar Ghose's ‘Nature Strategies.’” Review of Contemporary Fiction 9, no. 2 (summer 1989): 172-78.

[In the following essay, Harris analyzes Ghose's poems and studies his use of nature as a metaphor for his inner turmoil and displacement.]

I attempted an analysis of Zulfikar Ghose's poems in The Womb of Space1 by assessing their bearing on the paradoxes of a new nature poetry whose roots (I am tempted to say “alien roots”) lie within the social and symbolical ramparts of our civilization. I would now like to return to this issue and to extend the parameters of sensation in the body of such a discussion....

(The entire section is 2743 words.)

Tariq Rahman (essay date summer 1989)

SOURCE: Rahman, Tariq. “Zulfikar Ghose and the Land of His Birth.” Review of Contemporary Fiction 9, no. 2 (summer 1989): 179-87.

[In the following essay, Rahman examines the importance of Ghose's writing to Pakistani and Indian literature in English, paying special attention to Ghose's poetry and his novel The Murder of Aziz Khan.]

In an interview in 1984, Zulfikar Ghose remarked: “I have not been back to India or Pakistan for twenty-three years. Neither country has given me the slightest recognition. But this has nothing to do with writing.”1 Yet, Ghose's relationship with the subcontinent has had a profound influence on his work. In fact the most...

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Ewing Campbell (review date summer 1989)

SOURCE: Campbell, Ewing. “Encountering the Other in The Fiction of Reality.Review of Contemporary Fiction 9, no. 2 (summer 1989): 220-24.

[In the following review, Campbell asserts that The Fiction of Reality is not a piece of criticism, but is, in fact, a novel. Campbell uses other examples from literature to prove that Ghose's experimentation with reality and language forms a basis for fiction of the word.]

As I understand criticism it is, like philosophy and history, a kind of novel for the use of discreet and curious minds.

—Anatole France, The Literary Life


(The entire section is 2294 words.)

Alamgir Hashmi (review date winter 1992)

SOURCE: Hashmi, Alamgir. “‘A Stylized Motif of Eagle Wings Woven’: The Selected Poems of Zulfikar Ghose.” World Literature Today 66, no. 1 (winter 1992): 66-69.

[In the following review, Hashmi traces the themes of displacement and exile in Ghose's poetry from his earliest works to his previously unpublished and newer poems collected in Selected Poems.]

Born in Sialkot in 1935, Zulfikar Ghose moved with his family to Bombay in 1942 and to England following the Partition. His first book of poems appeared in London in 1964, and he became well known as a poet from Pakistan. In quick succession came short stories, novels, and an autobiography, as well as journalism...

(The entire section is 3142 words.)

Aamer Hussein (review date 20 March 1992)

SOURCE: Hussein, Aamer. “In Various Incarnations.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4642 (20 March 1992): 20.

[In the following review, Hussein provides a brief synopsis of The Triple Mirror of the Self, noting that Ghose's experiments with style and theme are difficult to follow in the beginning of the novel but become integral to the story as the novel progresses.]

A cryptic document recovered from the Brazilian rainforest, ostensibly the memoir of a refugee from the urban wildernesses of Asia, Europe and North America, is handed by “the leading Latin American Realist” to Jonathan Pons, an academic in search of a subject. On discovering himself—in a...

(The entire section is 697 words.)

Reed Way Dasenbrock (review date autumn 1992)

SOURCE: Dasenbrock, Reed Way. Review of The Triple Mirror of the Self, by Zulfikar Ghose. World Literature Today 66, no. 4 (autumn 1992): 785-86.

[In the following review, Dasenbrock comments that The Triple Mirror of the Self is more autobiographical and candid than Ghose's previous novels, noting that although the novel lacks unity, aspects of the book are unique and enthralling.]

Zulfikar Ghose, a British writer born in Pakistan, raised in India and now long resident in Texas (see WLT 66:1, pp. 66-69 and 71-72), is one of the most unusual writers in English today. The dominant setting of his fiction over the past twenty years has been none of...

(The entire section is 631 words.)

Chelva Kanaganayakam (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: Kanaganayakam, Chelva. “Memory and Artifice in Poetry.” In Structures of Negation: The Writings of Zulfikar Ghose, pp. 10-32. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993.

[In the following excerpt, Kanaganayakam studies the changes in content, tone, style, and form in Ghose's poetry from his earlier poems to more recent endeavors. Kanaganayakam notes Ghose's growing sense of displacement and makes a distinction between changes in Ghose's poetry and changes in his fiction.]

Zulfikar Ghose began his literary career as a poet with the publication of his first collection of poems, The Loss of India, in 1964 (hereinafter cited as Loss); his fifth...

(The entire section is 9327 words.)

Chelva Kanaganayakam (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: Kanaganayakam, Chelva. “Going Home: Figures of Enchantment and The Triple Mirror of the Self.” In Structures of Negation: The Writings of Zulfikar Ghose, pp. 158-76. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993.

[In the following excerpt, Kanaganayakam examines Figures of Enchantment and The Triple Mirror of the Self in terms of Ghose's feelings of diaspora, noting that Ghose's writing at this point addresses the lack of a homeland and that his writing style reflects an attempt to recreate a “home” environment, with all its contradictory elements.]

Zulfikar Ghose's ongoing preoccupation with the thematics of exile and...

(The entire section is 8117 words.)

June Gaur (review date 1996)

SOURCE: Gaur, June. “Beyond Personal History: Zulfikar Ghose's Confessions of a Native-Alien.Literary Criterion 31, nos. 1-2 (1996): 63-70.

[In the following review of Ghose's autobiography, Confessions of a Native-Alien, Gaur draws parallels between Ghose's feelings of displacement and alienation and the diaspora of people from lands that were once part of India, as well as Indian nationals who live abroad.]

My first strategy was to be excused the trial: I wasn't a voluntary participant and why, I asked, should I imperil my existence. …

It was worse than making a fool of...

(The entire section is 2611 words.)

Further Reading


Kanaganayakam, Chelva. “Bibliography.” In Structures of Negation: The Writings of Zulfikar Ghose, pp. 197-221. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993.

Comprehensive bibliography of Ghose's writings, both of his major works and of his writings published in various periodicals and collections.


Bate, Jonathan. “Love Locked Out.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4734 (24 December 1993): 3-4.

Provides an overview of current Shakespearean criticism, including a negative assessment of Ghose's Shakespeare's Mortal Knowledge.

Bradbury, Malcolm....

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