The Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Fiction - Vol. 3

By John Clement Ball | Go to book overview

T

Tharoor, Shashi
RALPH CRANE

The Indian writer Shashi Tharoor is the author of 10 books, including three novels, a collection of short fiction, and six works of non-fiction. Despite living in the United States for most of his adult life, in his novels and his collection of early stories, The Five-Dollar Smile (1990), published in response to the success of The Great Indian Novel (1989), Tharoor eschews such topics as identity and migration–common concerns of Indian diasporic writing–in favor of a more direct (perhaps nostalgic) engagement with India that manifests differently in each book.

Tharoor was born in London on March 9, 1956 and was educated in India and the United States, earning a BA from St. Stephen’s College in Delhi, and completing his doctorate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in 1978. Formerly Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Tharoor came second behind Ban Ki-moon in the race to succeed Kofi Annan as Secretary-General in 2006; he is currently chairman of the Dubai-based Afras Ventures.

The title of Tharoor’s first novel, The Great Indian Novel – a direct reference to the Mahabharata (which, loosely translated, means “great India”), the work that provides the framework for his story while alluding to the elusive “great American novel”–immediately signposts his postmodernist interest in language. In his retelling of India’s greatest epic through the lens of modern Indian historical politics, Tharoor enters ground familiar to readers of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (1980). Yet, while Tharoor obviously owes a literary debt to Rushdie, his magnificent reworking of the Mahabharata also demonstrates the originality of his own voice. In the novel Tharoor transplants the story of the epic into modern Indian history with the Kauravas of the epic, for example, representing India’s Congress Party: Bishma from the Mahabharata becomes Ganga Datta in Tharoor’s version, a fictional representation of Mahatma Gandhi; the Karna of the epic becomes Muhammad Ali Karna, a figure who parallels the historical Mohammed Ali Jinnah; Priya Duryodhani becomes Duryodhana, who clearly resembles Indira Gandhi; while Dhritarashtra is Jawaharlal Nehru. But perhaps of even greater importance than the allusions to history and politics in this novel is Tharoor’s interest in language. Through various linguistic games and numerous literary allusions to Paul Scott, E. M. Forster, and other Raj writers, Tharoor exposes the power of language as a tool of the colonial process.

Tharoor’s next two novels both have contemporary settings. In Show Business (1991), Tharoor delivers a strident indictment of Indian politics beneath the veneer of an ironic satire of Bollywood, India’s popular, Bombay-based cinema industry. The novel closely follows the career of Ashok Banjara, an Indian film hero–his rise to fame, his marriage to an up-and-coming young heroine, his many affairs, his vast wealth, his flirtation with politics, and his eventual fall. Interspersed with Banjara’s own story, and ultimately indistinguishable from it, are the plots of various films in which he stars. The novel is at once a comic tale about the Indian film industry, a homily on greed and ambition, and a highly

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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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