The Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Fiction - Vol. 3

By John Clement Ball | Go to book overview

S

Sahgal, Nayantara
ANNA GUTTMAN

Nayantara Sahgal was born on May 10, 1927 in Allahabad, then in British India. At the time of Sahgal’s birth, her maternal uncle, Jawaharlal Nehru, was already a well-known nationalist leader, writer, and activist. Twenty years later, he would become independent India’s first prime minister. Given her family background, it should be no surprise that Sahgal’s writing, both fiction and non-fiction, demonstrates a strong interest in the Indian nation, nationalist history, and national politics. Indeed, she published two autobiographies early in her writing career – From Fear Set Free (1962) and Prison and Chocolate Cake (1966)–which document life with the first family of Indian politics and reveal her great admiration and respect for Nehru. Sahgal went on to edit the letters of Nehru and his sister Vijayalakshmi, who enjoyed a close relationship and also wrote two biographies of Indira Gandhi, her first cousin and prime minister of India from 1971 to 1977 and again from 1980 until her assassination in 1984: Indira Gandhi’s Emergence and Style (1978) and Indira Gandhi: Her Road to Power (1982). Highly critical of the state of emergency declared by then Prime Minister Gandhi between 1975 and 1977, Sahgal resigned her presidency of India’s national literary academy in protest and, for her outspoken views, had a promised diplomatic appointment to Italy revoked. She then lived in the United States and in Britain for a time.

Outside of India she is best known as a novelist, particularly for Rich Like Us (1985b), for which she won both the Sinclair Prize for fiction and the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1985 as well as the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 1987. Gender is another one of Sahgal’s persistent concerns. In particular, the difficulties faced by women struggling with dysfunctional marriages are a recurring theme. This Time of Morning (1965), for instance, tells the story of Rashmi’s decision to divorce her husband. The Day in Shadow (1971) begins just after Simrit’s divorce and deals with her struggle to negotiate her new status (along with a punishing divorce settlement) and her discovery of happiness with a new partner. Infidelity and marital discontent are major themes of Storm in Chandigarh (1969). In Rich Like Us, Rose and Mona struggle to come to terms with their respective marriages to the same man, his infidelities, and each other, while Nishi, their daughterin-law, inhabits an unhappy marriage with Mona’s son Dev. Sahgal’s attention to women’s lives and agencies has been critically compared to that of Margaret Drabble, Doris Lessing, Nadine Gordimer, Buchi Emecheta, and Shashi Deshpande, among others.

Such personal stories are often paired in Sahgal’s novels with examinations of critical moments in Indian national politics and debates over national values. A Time to be Happy (1958), Plans for Departure (1985a), Mistaken Identity (1988), and Lesser Breeds (2003) all investigate the birth of Indian nationalist consciousness, with perspectives ranging from those of an unconventional Danish woman (Anna Hansen in Plans for Departure) to a minor Raja (Nikhil in Mistaken Identity) to a small-town teacher (Nurullah in

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The Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Fiction - Vol. 3
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Editors i
  • The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Literature WWW.Literatureencyclopedia.Com ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Entries vii
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • Notes on Contributors to Volume III xv
  • Introduction to Volume III 937
  • A 942
  • B 980
  • C 995
  • D 1034
  • E 1052
  • F 1066
  • G 1094
  • H 1121
  • I 1145
  • J 1154
  • K 1167
  • L 1180
  • M 1198
  • N 1252
  • O 1270
  • P 1277
  • Q 1296
  • R 1300
  • S 1325
  • T 1365
  • U 1370
  • V 1373
  • W 1378
  • Z 1398
  • Index 1400
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