Desani, born in Kenya, educated in India and currently a professor at the University of Texas, offers his first book in some 40 years: 23 stories and fables, along with a dramatic prose poem, that range from bleakness to ironic comedy and from supernatural tales to highly mannered satires. The prose poem—which tells the story of ``Hali,'' who loves Rooh, whose death plunges Hali into grief and a mystical journey— is most noteworthy as an example of private mythology turned into accessible invocation. The supernatural element in many of the other fictions is strong: ``The Valley of Lions,'' for example, is short and visionary; ``Mephisto's Daughter'' concerns a narrator who has access to ``Old Ugly's daughter''; and ``The Lama Arupa'' follows the holy man of the title through ``several states of consciousness'' after his death until he returns as a chicken. ``The Merchant of Kisingarh'' is told by a deceased merchant speaking through his son, a sometime medium. These pieces manage to be both wry and penetrating by turns, while ``The Last Long Letter''—an epistolary tale about a daughter sent away to meet her future groom, a boy who turns out to be visionary—is consistently bittersweet. ``A Border Incident,'' more traditional, tells of a man punished (mildly) for deserting his post to save a boy's life. Desani also offers a mock lecture (``Rudyard Kipling's Evaluation of His Own Mother'') on one of Kipling's more ludicrous compositions, and he closes with the phantasmagoric ``The Mandatory Interview of the Dean''—a madcap satire of bureaucracy and officiousness offered up in a style that is rich and frothily indulgent. A varied collection, impressive in its use of religious and personal mythology—and lushly descriptive of a sensibility and a culture that is part English, part Indian, and uniquely Desani's own.

Pub Date: May 24, 1991

ISBN: 0-929701-12-7

Page Count: 207

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1991


Gorgeous and troubling.

Cartoonist Kuper (Kafkaesque, 2018, etc.) delivers a graphic-novel adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s literary classic exploring the horror at the center of colonial exploitation.

As a group of sailors floats on the River Thames in 1899, a particularly adventurous member notes that England was once “one of the dark places of the earth,” referring to the land before the arrival of the Romans. This well-connected vagabond then regales his friends with his boyhood obsession with the blank places on maps, which eventually led him to captain a steamboat up a great African river under the employ of a corporate empire dedicated to ripping the riches from foreign land. Marlow’s trip to what was known as the Dark Continent exposes him to the frustrations of bureaucracy, the inhumanity employed by Europeans on the local population, and the insanity plaguing those committed to turning a profit. In his introduction, Kuper outlines his approach to the original book, which featured extensive use of the n-word and worked from a general worldview that European males are the forgers of civilization (even if they suffered a “soul [that] had gone mad” for their efforts), explaining that “by choosing a different point of view to illustrate, otherwise faceless and undefined characters were brought to the fore without altering Conrad’s text.” There is a moment when a scene of indiscriminate shelling reveals the Africans fleeing, and there are some places where the positioning of the Africans within the panel gives them more prominence, but without new text added to fully frame the local people, it’s hard to feel that they have reached equal footing. Still, Kuper’s work admirably deletes the most offensive of Conrad’s language while presenting graphically the struggle of the native population in the face of foreign exploitation. Kuper is a master cartoonist, and his pages and panels are a feast for the eyes.

Gorgeous and troubling.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-393-63564-5

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019


Chwast and Twain are a match made in heaven.

Design veteran Chwast delivers another streamlined, graphic adaptation of classic literature, this time Mark Twain’s caustic, inventive satire of feudal England.

Chwast (Tall City, Wide Country, 2013, etc.) has made hay anachronistically adapting classic texts, whether adding motorcycles to The Canterbury Tales (2011) or rocket ships to The Odyssey (2012), so Twain’s tale of a modern-day (well, 19th-century) engineer dominating medieval times via technology—besting Merlin with blasting powder—is a fastball down the center. (The source material already had knights riding bicycles!) In Chwast’s rendering, bespectacled hero Hank Morgan looks irresistible, plated in armor everywhere except from his bow tie to the top of his bowler hat, sword cocked behind head and pipe clenched in square jaw. Inexplicably sent to sixth-century England by a crowbar to the head, Morgan quickly ascends nothing less than the court of Camelot, initially by drawing on an uncanny knowledge of historical eclipses to present himself as a powerful magician. Knowing the exact date of a celestial event from more than a millennium ago is a stretch, but the charm of Chwast’s minimalistic adaption is that there are soon much better things to dwell on, such as the going views on the church, politics and society, expressed as a chart of literal back-stabbing and including a note that while the upper class may murder without consequence, it’s kill and be killed for commoners and slaves. Morgan uses his new station as “The Boss” to better the primitive populous via telegraph lines, newspapers and steamboats, but it’s the deplorably savage civility of the status quo that he can’t overcome, even with land mines, Gatling guns and an electric fence. The subject of class manipulation—and the power of passion over reason—is achingly relevant, and Chwast’s simple, expressive illustrations resonate with a childlike earnestness, while his brief, pointed annotations add a sly acerbity. His playful mixing of perspectives within single panels gives the work an aesthetic somewhere between medieval tapestry and Colorforms.

Chwast and Twain are a match made in heaven.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-60819-961-7

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2013

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