Living Between Memoir And History

From DAWN:

Books8 Sara Suleri is now a noticeable postcolonial literary figure. Her first and third book are memoirs but there is also sufficient commentary on Pakistan’s post-partition history. Perhaps, one reason to write the history of Pakistan under the umbrella of fictional memoir is that in Pakistan, text book history is often distorted and tailor-made for the ideological suppression of the community. Suleri’s narratives have even greater relevance in the present times as contemporary Pakistan grapples for political stability. Poised to dispense the dual role of the creative writer and an academic, she has also contributed to post-colonial theory. While there is nothing apparently ground-breaking in merging memoir, autobiography and history by a Pakistani post-colonial woman writer, a greater degree of critical concern is attached to the narrative form of her books. It is safe to say that Suleri’s books are not novels but these books have basic ingredients necessary for the making of fiction.

The novel, by virtue of its form, includes the autobiographical trivia and subliminal experiences of the author as a character and narrator. The 19th and early 20th-century European novel is irretrievably autobiographical because the writers were more insightful about the advantages and disadvantages of depicting personal and public life. Suleri herself has been ambiguous about the form of Meatless Days (1989). She has called the book ‘a chronicle of the inextricably married histories’ and having said that she appropriates the Shakespearean method of fictionalising history. Shakespeare has also written chronicles and those were given a dramatic life. Suleri has rightly caught the Shakespearean habit of making history look like fiction, but the temporal pressures in the days of Shakespeare were much different from that of present times. The author finds herself in a world (post-colonial/political) which demands a logical fidelity to one’s cultural identity in the face of larger world conflicts.

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