towelhead on a small island, a review by modern mummee

Mummee is seriously displeased. She spent four hours on Alicia Erian’s Towelhead. She wasn’t planning to read it and only did so because she wanted to see what sort of a novel was called Towelhead, a racial slur for our Mid-East bhais and behens as well as for others who wear turbans in these days of baseball caps.

Towelhead is about thirteen year old Jasira and her parents, who may as well be thirteen years old too, for all the complexity they show. Jasira’s mother is divorced and dating Barry, whose roving hands lead him to shaving Jasira in unmentionable places (at least for mummee). Much is made in this novel of the act of shaving and alas, Mummee did not come away with any new insight into perhaps a fresh look at shaving and its pickings.

On finding out about this, Jasira's mother sends her to live with her Daddy, a once Iraqi native, now an American residing in Houston. He listens to NPR, is accordingly upset when Saddam invades Kuwait and battles his Americanism out with his neighbor, army reserve dude, Mr. Vuoso. Mr. Vuoso has a ten year old son whom Jasira baby sits and who calls her Raghead, Camel Jockey and Sand Nigger, all alussions to the title. The novel, which could have been named anyone of these slurs, decides to rest its haunches on the slur 'Towelhead,' without any particular justification. Mummy wonders why and is saddened that neither Erian nor Jasira deigns to enlighten.

There is a supposed element of war in the novel as well as one of racism and Mummee, who likes to read about such topics, as long as neither inflicts her directly, found the novel to espouse on neither shrewdly. Saddam invades Kuwait and Jasira’s Dad doggedly continues listening to NPR, battling with Mr. Vuoso and being mean to Jasira, though we never really know why Daddy is such a mean bastard. A little bit of backstory into who the hell Daddy is before he decided to be from Houston might have made this a richer and perhaps more political novel, but again neither Erian nor Jasira will tell.

Mummee did glean, however, that Daddy was not mean because Jasira was dating a black boy, because Daddy’s meanness began long before that, only dating and Daddy’s disapproval bring us to the racial element, a bold step perhaps on Erian’s part for letting us intuit that an Arab can look down on a fellow dark skinned man. The interracial dating between teens is depicted through more shaving and picking. Why this stupid fascination with pubic hair? Granted there is this general consensus around the world, that there seems to be too much, but i don't think that is the point Erian is trying to make.

The good guy and gal are the liberal couple living next door to Daddy. When the going gets really crappy they aid Jasira in remarkable ways. How? Now if Mummee telss you everything, she wouldn't be Mummee. Go read it, Beta! If you need some incentive, let me tell you that Jasira’s sexual exploits and exploitations make up a good chunk of the novel and though the forced sexual awakening of a thirteen year old is handled somewhat deftly, it is also handled somewhat too soft-porny for Mummee's intellectual taste.

However, if this interests you, Mummy says go ahead, read it, Barnes and Nobles wants you to. The Barnes and Nobles Discovery Writers pamphlet features Alicia Erian as a writer to be discovered is baffling enough but it is even more distressing for Mummee to find an author the caliber of Andrea Levy lumped within the same pages. Levy’s Small Island won England’s literary prizes Whitbread and Orange in 2005. She is certainly anauthor worthy of American discovery and not just because she won prizes, but because Mummee has read Small Island and has loved it. Small Island is set in pre and present 1948 and moves between Jamaica, England and India as deftly as the four narrators who tell their interweaving tales of class clash, racial schism and love affairs. Levy’s characters are full bodied and blooded characters engaged in way more than indulgent sexual shavings and pickings and instead of the characters listening to NPR, they are the people whom the news reports of. Race is handled particularly elegantly and at one point Levy compares the palm trees dotting the edge of Jamaica, so congenial to tourists, the bars of a prison to the Island’s residents.

Mummee’s Verdict, if there must be one: Go to a Small Island without a towel on your head!

introducing modern mummee

behenji is honored to have a guest reviewer grace her blog. she's a bookworm, a mother of two rambunctious yet adorable kids, and a versatile wife who knows more than two uses for a frying pan. and she weilds a pen mightier than a sword...she is modern mummee, and boy does she have opinions. mummeeji will hopefully be paying us a weekly visit and share her wit and wisdom on books she's read. let us give mummee a big behenji welcome;)


dappled postmodern apple and two theives

okay, so i want to write about so many things, hence the strange title. if you can figure out 'what' from the title, i will give you an autographed copy of my debut novel...what's that you say? i have to write it first? behenji promises to write so much her hand develops inkitus. until then, you will have to be satisfied with 'it was a dark, moonless night. shyam was peeling the sugar cane stick with his good front tooth...'anyway, before i say anything else: !@$%^&*()_+ and :"?><~?><. yes folks, behenji can now emote, shift, control, salsa dance and chachacha across her keyboard. it feels great!!!!! behenji is the proud owner of a iBook G4. so that's my dappled apple-white with fingerprints and probably a few cookie crumbs.

now on to the post-modern. i got a mail from one of my beloved friends asking me this, "what the fuck is derridean deconstruction? 'now i couldn't tell her how most of us so called theory-savvy people ask that question amongst ourselves, but in secret. i told her it was about breaking literature down to its neutrons, protons, and electrons. and then i came upon this article.
or many contemporary academics, especially those who bought into postmodern theory in the last few decades, the idea of the "real" raises serious problems. Reality depends on those who are perceiving it, on social forces that have conditioned their thinking, and on whoever controls the flow of information that influences them. They believe with Nietzsche that there are no facts, only interpretations. Along with notions like truth or objectivity, or moral concepts of good and evil, there's hardly anything more contested in academia today.

howz that for some critical thought...

and now on to theives. panditji and i are looking forward to seeing bunty aur babli, shaad ali sahgal's much anticipated second movie. after saathiya, expectations are running very high. the story revolves around a young woman and man, who want to bust out of kanpur (the same place panditji busted out of, but don't tell him i said that), and become an unlikely team of crime, rhyme and disguises. big dreamers with empty pockets, the story of our lives;)

and on that note, a very goodnight to those in north america and good morning to those rising in the east;)


even the beautiful can write...and struggle with it

Was everyone obliged to write a novel? Could I write a novel? Did I want to write a novel? What the hell was a novel, anyway, when you came right down to it? A really, really, really long short story? I hoped so, because that was the only thing I knew for certain that I could manage, sort of, to write.

a handsome, pulitzer-winning writer wrote this in an introspective, honest, self-indulgent essay for the NYRB. click on the title to find out who, what, where, when and why.