Zulfikar Ghose Criticism - Essay

Anne Barnes (review date 16 January 1976)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.

Bilqis Siddiqi (review date winter 1977)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 wife dies, and he travels south to recover from shock. He is taken for a god at one place and for the reincarnation of a long-deceased national hero at another. He is also involved in a revolution before he returns to Manaos. He is about to leave for England when he is arrested for treason—a crime, ironically, committed during the war more than fifty years earlier.

The novel is also the story of the utterly selfish and depraved world of the affluent European rubber merchants who ruthlessly exploit the natives by virtually killing them with labor at starvation wages. They treacherously wipe out the Indian settlements and publicly rape the little Indian girls for amusement. This glittering but rotten world collapses as suddenly as it had prospered. The Singletons, Hofman, Lopez Gama, the Dariers and Baron Aikman all die natural or unnatural deaths in quick succession. The ghost city of Manaos also witnesses Gregorio's betrayal by the enigmatic beauty Gloria, the wife of his childhood friend Alfredo, who is torn between love and hatred for her lover.

Underneath all this lies the deeper theme of the search for one's identity which recurs frequently in Ghose's works. Ghose's style is chaste and descriptions of scene and event exquisitely vivid. A poignant touch is added to romance and adventure by subtle irony which, intermingled with delightful humor, makes the earlier chapters the most enjoyable.

Marion Glastonbury (review date 10 September 1982)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 in various parts of the forest. But, close by, native savagery re-asserts itself; fraud and dysentery are rife; adventurers fall prey to cannibals, and luscious ladies become vengeful harpies, two of whom the hero is obliged to strangle post-coitally.

The trouble with a fairy tale for the machine age is that, once you update archetypal motifs, bathos threatens. The orphaned heir, robbed of his patrimony by a wicked uncle, is sent into exile to swot for entrance to LSE. The coincidences of the plot depend on a series of technical hitches—gremlins ex machina—that suggest singular ineptitude and naiveté on the part of the worldly wise and fabulously rich. The symbolic role of the golden coach is taken by a Lincoln Continental, stuffed with smuggled bullion and radiant with Motor-Show hype. The title and chapter-headings are borrowed from poems by Pablo Neruda, who would scarcely have chosen to dignify a lurid extravaganza in which prospects for revolutionary change are embodied in an American con-man and an English yob

Review of Contemporary Fiction (review date 1983)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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. …...

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Alamgir Hashmi (review date winter 1984)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 Sealed Light” and “The Dead Labyrinth,” are reechoed by short verse quotations from T. S. Eliot and César Vallejo.

Set in contemporary South America, the novel exploits the resources of the story in multiple directions to elicit from the land a meaning for those who inhabit it. The quest for the Golden Fleece takes on exciting new forms as a Lincoln Continental is crushed and remade into a golden sheep by an artist and placed as a piece of sculpture on a man-made island; the gold of the golden sheep becomes available for a revolutionary plot, and Madeleine and Jason find at the end of their journeys that the place on the sixteenth-century map which they have been looking for is the one they already possess. A fable appears to have been expanded into a complex novel by a master storyteller.

Ghose knows how to make plain language sing, and it is good to have him back on familiar territory. The novel's “torments,” the reversals in human relationships and the ironies of circumstance, European and Indian, are chapters in the history of an increasingly somber vision. The last chapter finds the principal characters gone; there remains only an Indian woman completing the last rites. As the workers and others left Oyarzún's land, they “realized then that anyone coming on the old road and stopping where it suddenly ended would have to turn back and would never know that a land was to be found across the river which had been as perfect and as beautiful as any paradise dreamed of by man.” A powerful imagination has created it, and, unlike the land, the story of its discovery and exploration is bound to live.

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

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Merle Rubin (review date 26 August 1984)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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,...

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Wilson Harris (essay date summer 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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....

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Tariq Rahman (essay date summer 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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


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Alamgir Hashmi (review date winter 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Aamer Hussein (review date 20 March 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Reed Way Dasenbrock (review date autumn 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Chelva Kanaganayakam (essay date 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Chelva Kanaganayakam (essay date 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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June Gaur (review date 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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