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Zulfikar Ghose Biography

london macmillan press india

Nationality: British. Born: Sialkot, Pakistan, 1935. Education: Keele University, England, B.A. in English and philosophy 1959. Career: Cricket correspondent, the Observer, London, 1960-65; teacher in London, 1963-69. Since 1969 professor of English, University of Texas, Austin. Awards: Arts Council of Great Britain bursary, 1967. Agent: Aitken, Stone and Wylie, 29 Fernshaw Road, London SW10 0TG, England.

PUBLICATIONS

Novels

The Contradictions. London, Macmillan, 1966.

The Murder of Aziz Khan. London, Macmillan, 1967; New York, Day, 1969.

The Incredible Brazilian:

The Native. London, Macmillan, and New York, Holt Rinehart, 1972.

The Beautiful Empire. London, Macmillan, 1975; Woodstock, New York, Overlook Press, 1984.

A Different World. London, Macmillan, 1978; Woodstock, NewYork, Overlook Press, 1985.

Crump's Terms. London, Macmillan, 1975.

The Texas Inheritance (as William Strang). London, Macmillan, 1980.

Hulme's Investigations into the Bogart Script. Austin, Texas, Curbstone Press, 1981.

A New History of Torments. New York, Holt Rinehart, and London, Hutchinson, 1982.

Don Bueno. London, Hutchinson, 1983; New York, Holt Rinehart, 1984.

Figures of Enchantment. London, Hutchinson, and New York, Harper, 1986.

The Triple Mirror of the Self. London, Bloomsbury, 1991.

Short Stories

Statement Against Corpses, with B.S. Johnson. London, Constable, 1964.

Veronica and the Gongora Passion. Toronto, Tsar, 1998.

Uncollected Short Stories

"The Absences," in Winter's Tales 14, edited by Kevin Crossley-Holland. London, Macmillan, and New York, St. Martin's Press, 1968.

"A Translator's Fiction," in Winter's Tales 1 (new series), edited byDavid Hughes. London, Constable, and New York, St. Martin's Press, 1985.

Poetry

The Loss of India. London, Routledge, 1964.

Jets from Orange. London, Macmillan, 1967.

The Violent West. London, Macmillan, 1972.

Penguin Modern Poets 25, with Gavin Ewart and B.S. Johnson. London, Penguin, 1974.

A Memory of Asia. Austin, Texas, Curbstone Press, 1984.

Selected Poems. Karachi, Oxford University Press, 1991.

Other

Confessions of a Native-Alien (autobiography). London, Routledge, 1965.

Hamlet, Prufrock, and Language. London, Macmillan, and NewYork, St. Martin's Press, 1978.

The Fiction of Reality. London, Macmillan, 1983.

The Art of Creating Fiction. London, Macmillan, 1991.

Shakespeare's Mortal Knowledge. London, Macmillan, 1993.

*

Critical Studies:

Zulfikar Ghose issue of The Review of Contemporary Fiction, 9 (2), Summer 1989; Structures of Negation: The Writings of Zulfikar Ghose by Chelva Kanaganayakam, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1993.

* * *

Zulfikar Ghose's five stories in Statement Against Corpses repeatedly concern the metaphysics that unites thought with action, life with death, success with failure, aspirations with accomplishment. "The Zoo People" is the best of these. Thematically complex, linguistically assured, subtle in its evocation of character, delicate in its responses to landscape, provocative in its approach to time, it probes the mind of the English émigré Emily Minns, as she comes to terms with physical and metaphysical perception in an India alien to her upbringing. Is an animal more beautiful in the wild than in a zoo, she asks—and what happens if, taking a cage away, one discovers "primitive wildness" instead of beauty? Her ultimate answer arises from her increased sensitivity to Indian paradoxes and her adaptation of them to her "European Enlightenment" patterns of thought:

Absolute barrenness was a reality with which she now felt a sympathy. There were rocks and rocks: each, whether a pebble or a boulder, was a complete, homogeneous, self-sufficient mass of matter in itself; each stood or lay in the dust at perfect peace with the universe which did no more to it than round its edges; each was there in its established place, a defiant mass of creation, magnificently aloof, without ancestry and without progeny.

Order, in other words, is within her mind's eye.

The Contradictions not only continues the metaphor of barrenness, but also structures itself on East-West logical oppositions. The "assertions" that open the book explore an Englishman's inhibited barriers against India, and India's human fecundity nonetheless. The "contradictions" that close it are set in England and pick up each theme and symbol from the first half of the book—not in order to refute them, but to complete them. The English rationalist philosophers must be blended with India's atemporality; material welfare must be glimpsed concurrently with the nominal importance of the colour of silk squares; Sylvia's English miscarriage must encourage her to appreciate what her experience of India did not directly allow: that an "area of nothingness" might possess "an odd attraction, and in this darkness, a disturbing power."

Attached ambivalently to a landscape of heart as well as a landscape of mind, Sylvia spirals towards a point of balance between antitheses. For Ghose himself, as his autobiography clearly announces, the point of balance is represented by the tenuous hyphen in "native-alien." Pakistan, India, British India, Britain, and the USA are all part of his experience, and all necessary to him, in conjunction. In another short story, "Godbert," the antithesis is conveyed by a different metaphor: "Donald … looked at horizons whereas John examined the texture of cobblestones." Later in the story, in a similar tense vein, Ghose writes: "One chooses a way of life. Or life imposes its own pattern upon one despite oneself." Such a dilemma lies at the core of Ghose's ambitious and moving novel The Murder of Aziz Khan, about a peasant farmer's futile effort to preserve his traditional land from industrial expansion, political roguery, blatant thuggery, and the power of money in other people's hands.

The metaphysics of perception and cultural tension continues to preoccupy Ghose in his later novels. Though Crump's Terms, the reflections of a London schoolteacher, is a weak foray into wry social comedy, the three volumes of The Incredible Brazilian show the author to be highly imaginative. Influenced by Márquez and others, these three books—The Native, The Beautiful Empire, and A Different World—tell the marvelous, almost picaresque narratives of a single character named Gregório, who in a series of reincarnations is variously native, explorer, soldier, planter, merchant, marketeer, writer, and revolutionary. In writing out the three "lives" of the three books, Gregório confronts various ethical, historical, and mythological claims to both the territory and the idea of Brazil: native land, European colony, and new nation. Beyond the claim to the land lies the claim to the future, he writes, and he asks if cultural contact must necessitate corruption, if power is really man's only motivation, and in a closing and magnificently eloquent irony, if efforts to prevent violence inevitably prove destructive. This knot of abstract ideas gives the work its breadth of vision; its success derives also from Ghose's skill in telling a vivid, concrete narrative.

Even more successful are Ghose's further forays into patterns of imaginative adventure. A New History of Torments and Don Bueno take prototypical quest cycles and turn them into contemporary adventures of the psyche. A New History of Torments follows the life of a young man from his rural South American home to a pleasure-palace island, only to watch him destroy himself after he becomes unwittingly entangled in an incestuous love. With a related setting, Don Bueno watches generations of young men grow up to inherit their fate: inevitably they pursue, kill off, and then replace their fathers—secure only in their blindness to the effects of time on their own ambition.

Figures of Enchantment, using metatextual and magic realist techniques, turns more consciously to analyze artifice, and probes the experience of exile in yet another way. Focusing on the figures of representation and imaginative understanding (each of the characters, or "figures," for example, exists as a "figure" or "type" in other character's eyes), the novel draws the attention to its own syntax. It makes clear that "figurative" language both constructs versions of reality and removes people from any "natural" or "unmediated" relation with the external world.

The stories of Veronica and the Gongora Passion take place against a varied backdrop, both in time and space, that includes South America, the Indian subcontinent, and Spain during the Muslim period in the Middle Ages. By turns poetic, comic, and dramatic, Ghose's stories and novels are engaging narratives. They also constitute a continuing analysis of power: of its workings, and of its basis in the economics of ownership and desire.

—W.H. New

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