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 scenes; a great deal of blackmail; a cholera epidemic and the mass murder of an Indian tribe. Various primitive religious ceremonies are described blow by blow and so is a tame South American revolution.
The hero is a man who finds he can make enough money from his fleet of brothel boats to do things like send his laundry to Paris. His private life is made up of various episodic attachments which end with phrases like “she walked slowly away” or “I knew it was farewell”; and there is a lot of jolliness about champagne and making love to one's wife in a broom cupboard. A thin layer of great thoughts is spread over all this. It's rather hard to disengage their meaning from Zulfikar Ghose's windbagging style which involves a heavy use of double negatives, dislocated syntax and paradoxes which do not always make sense, but they are vaguely on the theme of reincarnation and the soul of Brazil. There are, it is true, interesting descriptions of the jungle and the rubber plantation, but against this backcloth the story dangles like a distracting bauble.