Sunday Reading: Critics of Classical Literature


In 1981, British critic VS Pritchett published a review of Salman Rushdie’s second novel, “Midnight’s Children,” a political satire about a boy born in India as the country moved from colonial rule to independence. Rushdie sidesteps the typical feints of historical fiction and creates a crisp, allegorical vision of a meaningful national moment. The novel won the Booker Prize that year and was acclaimed for its evocative blend of historical fact and magical realism. “Like García Marquez in ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’,” writes Pritchett, Rushdie “weaves the ability of an entire people to carry their inherited myths – and the new ones they continue to generate – into a kind of magic carpet. The human swarm swarms into every man and woman as they bid for life. Ultimately, the reviewer notes, it’s a story about the connection between storytelling and history, and the ramifications of the tales left to us by our families, communities, and culture.

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This week, we bring you a selection of contemporary reviews from writers and reviews of classic novels. In “Remembering WH Auden,” Hannah Arendt examines the complex personality behind poetry. In 1987’s “A House Divided,” Judith Thurman explores the intricacies of race and family love in Toni Morrison’s “Beloved”. (The novelist “treats the past as if it were one of those old bright scenes painted on black glass – the scene of a disaster, like the burning of Parliament or the eruption of Krakatoa – and she shatters the glass, and recomposes it into a disjointed and confusing modern form. As the reader struggles with its fragments and mysteries, he is never ceased to be surprised by flashes of his own reflection in them. ”) In“ Don ‘t Shoot the Book-Reviewer; He’s doing his best ”, from 1939, Clifton Fadiman considers the innovative literary style of James Joyce’s latest novel,“ Finnegans Wake ”. In “Expeditions to Gilead and Seegard,” John Updike writes about the dark dystopia of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”. Finally, in a 1951 review, SN Behrman contemplates the symbolism behind JD Salinger’s first novel, “The Catcher in the Rye”. Of the protagonist, he writes: “It is his self-communications that are tragic and touching – a dark vortex swirling fiercely under the relentless hilarity of his surface activities. Holden’s difficulties affect his nervous system but never his vision. It is the vision of an innocent man.

Erin Overbey, Archives Editor

Salman Rushdie’s fantastic tour de force

In “Midnight’s Children”, the author weaves the ability of an entire people to carry their inherited myths – and the new ones that they keep generating – into a sort of magic carpet.

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Auden walking down a snowy street.

Remember WH Auden

There was nothing more admirable about Auden than her firm belief in sanity.

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A two-story white house with a porch

A divided house

How Toni Morrison’s drama “Beloved” engages us in history.

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JD Salinger

The vision of the innocent

“The Catcher in the Rye” by JD Salinger.

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A photograph by James Joyce

Don’t shoot the book reviewer; He does his best

A god, speaking in his sleep, could have written “Finnegans Wake”.

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A pregnant woman with shaded hands wrapped around her belly.

Expeditions to Gilead and Seegard

Margaret Atwood and Iris Murdoch let their imaginations run wild.

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