“train to pakistan” by khushwant singh
one of the seminal books about the partition of india, “train to pakistan” is a relatively short book, at about 190 pages. yet it encapsulates the madness and ambiguity of partition with masterly precision. the plot is brilliantly structured – an impressive architectural feat of realistically-drawn characters milling about an impending vortex and banging into one another with increasing frequency. khushwant singh captures the habits and culture of simple punjabi villagers with acute observation, in flawless english. the language is a feat in and of itself – it remains clean and uncluttered while representing people, places and situations packed with cruel contradictions and appalling extremes. the story proceeds surely, like a cable that is constantly coiled and stretched beyond endurance. we reach the end of the book with escalating tension and breathless suspense. and like it should, the cable finally snaps and we are left thinking about what happened for many days to come.
“three lives” by gertrude stein
stein’s incantational writing style is charming in the first story “the good anna” but becomes difficult to bear in “melanctha”. we are so close to the characters and their hour by hour psychosis that it becomes hard to breath. this is unique, unflinching writing. it reminded me of the urdu writer ismat chughtai, especially her masterpiece “the crooked line” which is a brave, intensely intimate, rich examination of women’s lives.