On NPR a couple nights ago as she introduced a segment with Mohsin Hamid, Michel Martin described his new book, The Last White Man, as being like a mix of Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” and ‘Portuguese author Saramago’s Blindness.’ Hamid framed the rest of his interview in those terms, although I don’t know if that was because of Martin’s characterization or if the characterization itself is rather Hamid’s to begin with.
Scanning a few random pages, I can see a Saramagoan dismissal of the period, so that excites me. And the premise of the novel is as enticing as it gets: white people waking up to discover suddenly they aren’t white anymore!!!!
I have spent a cumulative heap of hours over the years wishing something like this were possible, even required. Wouldn’t it be interesting, I’ve wondered, to require a white voter-registration applicant to get Hollywood-style make up dropped in a new city with like $30 in their pocket and no IDs for a week or two. I bet that would alter our political landscape almost immediately.
Also who knew I’d ever be thankful that I’d endured to read Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” back in art school in Chicago?! LOL but here we are: now I know that reference, even if the story wasn’t interesting to me at the time and the writing didn’t stick out in my head. (Maybe I’d have a different opinion more than a decade later; I probably would.)
Saramago’s works are literary genius. He is beyond any doubt my favorite author of the post-Renaissance world. If you haven’t read him yet, you really really should. Cain is a spectacularly blistering critique of Christianity, both as dogma and as a structure of power; also his sociological diptych Blindness and Seeing are must reads, and The Stone Raft is a surrealist epic for the modern age.
But first of all, with Randy Boyagota’s piece in the Atlantic, read some Rushdie! Praying for him, a committed atheist, is no good and thoughts for him are not enough: far better would it be to engage with his thoughts instead.
On Newshour a few days ago, AL Kennedy recommended Haroun and the Sea of Stories, the first novel Rushdie wrote after he went into exile as Joseph Anton. Kennedy described it as Rushdie’s “manifesto.” I’ve read it before, after I read Luka and the Fire of Life, since Luka was marketed as a sequel to Haroun, but I haven’t read it as Rushdie’s personal manifesto. I’m looking forward to picking it up again with that view of it in mind.
Random fun fact, and the most accessed memory I have from the pre-academic period of my life related to Rushdie: that time I found most of his fiction in a Borders a town over when it was closing and everything was 75%(?) off (was the discount even larger? 75 sticks out in my mind for some reason), which was a double win because when I found his books, I was reveling around inside the decaying corpse of the enemy that had destroyed the local bookstore I’d worked for. I was so poor that there was virtually no other way I would’ve been able to amass the better part of Rushdie’s corpus–since, ya know, before Amazon killed Borders, Borders (then Borders with Amazon and Walmart) managed to drive the bookstore into the ground where I would’ve otherwise been working for books like his.
Anyway, go read some Rushdie! (Something other than the Satanic Verses, maybe; unless you haven’t read the Verses yet, in which case you should definitely read it!)
And pick up Hamid’s book too!
And for the love of all that is decent, hit me up with Saramago-influenced books you know of! I’d be thankful for the recommendations!
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