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Excerpt from Odysseus Abroad by Amit Chaudhuri, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Odysseus Abroad

by Amit Chaudhuri

Odysseus Abroad by Amit Chaudhuri X
Odysseus Abroad by Amit Chaudhuri
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2015, 224 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2016, 224 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
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Print Excerpt

One: Bloody Suitors!

He got up at around nine o' clock with the usual feeling of dread. He threw off the duvet. Still unused to being vertical, he pounded the pillow and the sheet to ensure he'd dislodged strands of hair as well as the micro-organisms that subsisted on such surfaces but were invisible to the naked eye. He straightened the duvet, tugging at it till it was symmetrical on each side. He smoothed the sheet, patting it but skimming the starchy bit - a shiny patch of dried semen, already quite old - on the right flank of where he'd lain.

The anger inside him hadn't gone – from the aftermath of the concert. He'd watched it six days ago on TV: Africa, London, and Philadelphia conjoined by satellite. He switched it off after three quarters of an hour. By the time the Boomtown Rats came on, and the sea of dancing people in Wembley Stadium was being intercut with Ethiopian children with innocent eyes and bulbous heads, a phrase had arisen in his consciousness: 'Dance of death.' Didn't the exulting crowds in Wembley and in Philadelphia see their heroes' and their own complicity in the famine? But surely this line of thought was absurd, maybe malicious, and to interpret in such terms an event of messianic goodwill, meant to bring joy and food to Ethiopia, nothing but perverse? So what if it brings a bit of joy to Londoners as well? Is that what you're resenting? He'd discussed it with Mark while having lunch in the Students Union Building; and Mark, in the incredibly tolerant way of one who's brushed aside death (he was a cancer survivor; his lower left leg was amputated), and who saw his friend's madness for what it was, said with self-deprecating reasonableness: 'I think any kind of effort that brings relief to Africa is all right.' 'Can one make an aesthetic objection, though, however awful that might sound?' Ananda had insisted. 'Can an aesthetic objection go beyond what might seem morally right? That all those people cheering and dancing in Wembley Stadium, all of them thinking that by dancing to the music they were doing those starving children a good turn – that it made it quite wrong and macabre somehow, especially when you saw the faces of the children?' Mark smiled a smile of understanding – and of one who knew death's proximity. As for Ananda: his own position on this matter underlined to him his isolation from the world – from London, for that matter.

That feeling had come to him at other times, when he'd seen the necessity for certain actions and yet couldn't participate in them – including the great march that took place a couple of years ago soon after he'd arrived here as a student. He remembered his first awkward hour in the college – joining the other first years for the freshers' get-together in the Common Room on the second floor of Foster Court, ascending the stairs under a painting by Whistler, and ending up informing a bespectacled girl with a Princess Di haircut that the Sanskrit prem meant both carnal desire and love, that there was no separation between the two in 'Indian culture'. The girl had smiled distantly. Only a week or two after his arrival, the news of the imminent cruise missiles had gathered force, leading finally to the march. He didn't want to die and he didn't want the world to blow up (as it seemed it any day would), but he couldn't spend too much time thinking of the shadow of death hanging over mankind. Yet he didn't quite admit this to himself. It was his uncle, who'd come to see him the next day in Warren Street, who'd said, while watching the Hyde Park-bound procession on TV with Monsignor Kent in the foreground (a touch of revolutionary glamour it gave to this man, the word 'Monsignor'):

'They're not getting to the root cause. They're concerned about the symptom.' This was uttered in the droopy-eyed, amused way in which he spoke aphorisms containing a blindingly obvious truth ignored by everybody.

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Excerpted from Odysseus Abroad by Amit Chaudhuri. Copyright © 2015 by Amit Chaudhuri. Excerpted by permission of Knopf. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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