Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Bachelor of Arts by R. K. Narayan

Bachelor of Arts by R. K. Narayan (1937, 78 pages)

Coming of Age in India in the 1930s

In the last two months I have read and posted on thirty one short stories and two novels by the great Indian writer R. K. Narayan, Swami and Friends and The Man Eater of Malgudi.    The more I read Narayan (1906 to 2001-India-there is background information in my prior posts on Narayan) the more I like his work.    Narayan was the first author from India writing in English to have a large international audience.   Most of his works are set in an imaginary city he created, Malgudi, India.   I have been happy to notice that my posts on Narayan have consistently been and stayed the most viewed posts on my blog from day one of  my first posting on him(out of 650 or so posts) so I know there is a lot of interest in him among readers of my blog.   

Bachelor of Arts is the second of Narayan's novels.   It is like almost all his work, set in Malguidi.    The central character, Chandran, a young man from an upper middle class family, is enrolled in college when we meet him.  This is really a fun novel.   The characters are well done and I liked all the main characters in the novel.   Narayan is pretty much on a par with almost anybody in making people come to life in just a few sentences.   Chandran's mother is just perfectly done.    We see she is strong and can be abrasive but she loves and totally looks out for her family.  There is one scene that takes a reader from 2011 a bit of getting used to.   Chandran has fallen in love (or infatuation) with a girl he has seen but never spoken too.   He tells his parents about her and the father knows she comes from a good family in the same caste they are in (very important) so he goes to the father of the girl and talks marriage.   Everything including the dowry is all worked out until the bride's father takes the horocscope of Chandran to an astrologer and the astrologer says it is not a match.   As much as he tries, the father cannot get the other father to allow the marriage.   The mother of Chandran  says she is glad as she did not want  her son humiliating himself by marrying a girl of the very advanced age of fifteen.   The negotiations were so much fun to sit in on and I felt crushed for Chandran when they fell through.

I was shocked when I saw that Chandran was so upset by this he decided to become a Sanhus, a wandering holy man who has renounced materialism.   But his parents were a whole lot more shocked.  This is a horrifying thing to his parents.   He wanders for several months, his parents know what he is doing but not where he is or if he is OK.   Sandus have a high religious status but it is hardly the career his parents sent him to college to prepare for.   In a few months he decided to return home.   His father lectures him, his mother yells at him and his younger brother tells him he is an idiot and his lady has married someone else but he is soon  more or less back to normal.

Once back in Malgudi he needs a job.   He ends up getting a pretty decent job with a good potential income promoting subscriptions to a newspaper.   He throws himself into the work and is very successful at it.   The more subscriptions he sells the more he makes.   I was really happy to see how well he did and how his self esteem was built up.   You can see his father and mother are very proud of his success.   The father locates another wife for him.   At first he says no as he feels he will never love another girl besides the one he lost so he refuses the match.   Then his poet friend (he is a recurring character) tells him he might as well marry the girl once he verifies for himself she is attractive.  The poet is a great character!.

The ending is fun and keeps us wanting more.   I will be reading near term three more novels by Narayan, The English Teacher, The Financial Expert, and Waiting for the  Mahatma.    Narayan wrote, I think, fifteen novels and I hope to read all of them.   Reading these works also seems to me a great way to learn about life in colonial India.

Please feel free to share your experience reading Narayan with us.

Mel u


Unknown said...

Soon, you will have me reading a Narayan novel. Very soon. I have some library books that are due next week.....

David C. Russell, Author said...

Hi Mel U, I enjoy reading novels that are set in one location or another, sort of transports the reader to another place and either another time or some of the same time one finds they also are in. Will look into reading Narayan. My wife and I just finished reading several novels by Quaker Author Philip Gulley, they are set in small town Indiana about the ups and downs of congregation and community life there. Glad to be getting acquainted with you and your blog!
Mellow Roc

James said...

Great review! Narayan is one of my favorites and I recently read his short story collection Malgudi Days. The ironic twists and small town people whose lives were changed in a matter of a few pages made this a great book. Among his novels The Financial Expert is one of my favorites, so I will look forward to your comments when you read it.

Mel u said...

C. B. James-I hope you enjoy his work-I will look forward to your remarks on him

Mellow Roc-thanks very much for the visit and comment-I will investigate Phillip Gulley and value your suggestion very highly

James-I love Narayan-the more I read him the more I like him-thanks for sharing your experience with him

nicole said...

My boyfriend was tipped off to Narayan by a friend about a year ago, and has raved about him ever since, so he's been on my TBR for a bit. Recently, though, I got a boxed set of Penguin Evergreens (similar to their Great Ideas series, all Indian classics) after discovering them via Caustic Cover Critic. One volume is Narayan so I will be reading him very soon now too.

Anonymous said...

I recently read 'The Maneater of Malgudi'. One of those books that you can't wait to get back to if you have to put it down. Also very disappointing for me because...I'd like to be a writer but when I read a book like this I think "OH NO! I can never be that good. Oh woe is me!"