Two reviews: “Bengalis in America” and “The Best Cop Show ever…” – 6th April, 2014

 

“Bengalis in America” and “The Best Cop Show ever…”

 

I will write about two entirely diverse literary/dramatic productions which have found the eye of this amateur reviewer in recent months.

 

The Namesake

The first is a book – which was subsequently made into a film – entitled The Namesake, which I came across completely by chance, when I was trawling through the internet looking for something contemporary to read on my eBook device.

I settled on the first novel by a young Indian/American, Jhumpa Lahiri, who was already a Pulitzer Prize winner for her short story collection, Interpreter of maladies.

In the past, with one or two exceptions  I have experienced problems with connecting with authors who didn’t write their best work before I was born, but The Namesake had received excellent reviews and was on many people’s lists of recommended ‘good reads’.

I really wasn’t expecting too much, but as soon as I stared reading this fascinating novel, I was completely hooked. I confess that The Namesake , published in 2003, is the kind of novel I would have been very proud to have written, and is exactly the type of work that I aspire to write.

The novel is beautifully written, and is about the cultural issues that face Bengali immigrants from India when moving to live and work in the USA, and how their American-born children are inevitably more American than Indian.

In the past, I have been impatient when ploughing through the unnecessary  detail in modern novels, which seemed to hamper the progress of the plot; and I don’t know whether it is due to the process of me growing old, but in my  last two contemporary novels, (Dragon Tattoo, and now Namesake), I have thoroughly enjoyed reading about the myriad details of the characters’ lives.

This is despite the fact that many of the details bare little or no relevance to the furthering of the story. Or maybe it is simply the undoubted skill of the authors in drawing me in, and fascinating me with trivia of their lives, most of which was new to me

I was particularly fascinated to read about how the transplanted Bengali families adapted their lives, and fitted their Bengali customs and culture into an American setting; and how they sought out other Bengalis, and then gathered together to eat Bengali food and celebrate traditional Indian days, birthdays, weddings  and other festivals.

It brought home many memories of my years in the UK with my Thai wife, when she and other Thais adopted similar behaviour patterns and all got together at someone’s house to eat Thai food to celebrate special occasions.

The book contains a number of interconnecting, poignant stories; of the father and mother who sacrifice their lives by moving  to America to better themselves and to build a stable future for their children; of the children who grow up as Americans, but continue to be joined by an umbilical cord to India – the Land of their forefathers. The families make journeys back to India very few years, and the descriptions of these home visits back to their ‘roots’, for both old and new world family members make absorbing reading.

The author skilfully takes you deep into the minds and hearts of  two generations of Bengalis. We watch as they interact with each other as well as with the Americans around them, as they grow up and attend school, college an go to work. Inevitably they fall in love and marry which creates yet more telling clashes of culture .

You will wonder, laugh and cry as you read of the happy times, the sad times, of the loves and heartbreaks and even the tragic deaths that fill this story to the brim with heart-wrenching, poignant moments.

As you can see, I really liked it…

There then  followed the film of the same name, released in 2006 and directed by the noted Indian American , Mira Nair, who had previously directed “Monsoon Wedding” (2001), “Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love” (1996), “Mississippi Masala” (1991), and the Oscar-nominated “Salaam Bombay!” (1988).

Like the book, the film is a work of great skill and is faithful to the original story.  A few things have been changed, or truncated, as the novel was such a towering saga and  it would have been impossible to put it all on film unless it was converted into a 12 hour TV series.

The nuances and clash of cultures are brilliantly conveyed and the first class cast made a highly credible job of bringing this absorbing story of two generations of a Bengali family in America – not forgetting the frenetic visits to chaotic Calcutta – to the big screen.

If you can find this movie on a download, I would highly recommend that you give it 2 hours plus of your valuable time – you won’t regret it.

 

True Detective

I would quite happily put the 8 episode True Detective series , starring Mathew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, in the same league as The Sopranos, Deadwood, the first series of The Wire, (after series 1, for me, it lost its way), and possibly Breaking Bad, although I think True Detective tops BB by several percentage points.

It’s quite possibly the best Cop series ever made and from start to finish I was totally absorbed in this 8 hour television drama.

This spell-binding production had everything going for it. A single writer and a single director, (every American TV series till now, no matter how good, always has a team of writers and directors), and two of the top actors of their generation.

McConaughey has already picked up this year’s Oscar for best actor, and excels himself in the multi-layered role of the ‘loner’, brooding, cynical cop. Harrelson also probably plays his best ever role as McConaughey’s loud-mouth sidekick, as they become embroiled in the 17 year hunt for a brutal serial killer. The supporting cast are also all top notch.

The directing, cinematography, are without fault, and episode 4 contains the most amazing six-minute action sequence, (all shot in one take), that I have ever seen on TV – or film. You can hardly take a breath until it is over.

Set in Louisiana, the story’s sombre, moody background provides the perfect backdrop for what turns out to be a thoroughly chilling murder story, investigated  by two men, who in different ways, are both on their way to self-destruction.

In my view the ending is perfect, and I am really glad that the series creator has stated unequivocally that the characters will not return for a second series. That’s just how it should be, as the only place they can go from here is down, and True Detective is quite possibly the finest piece of television drama ever made.

 

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