Stephen Thompson: Racist Reviewer?

GalleyCat reports on this Stephen Thompson review of Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games. The opening paragraph reads:

There are certain books that are so similar to one another they almost beg to be grouped together. This is largely true of Indian novels. Look closely at the ones published in the past, say, 25 years, and you’ll see that they’re virtually identical, in theme if not in style and content.

Aside from the racist assertion here that Indian novels are “identical,” Thompson also suggests that Midnight’s Children and A Fine Balance are “indivisible.” This, despite the fact that the former contains a protagonist with a highly sensitive nose and the latter does not, the former chronicles Indian history from 1910 to 1976, while the latter takes place during The Emergency between 1975 and 1977. There are infinite differences in language, characters, and plotting. But don’t tell Thompson this. So long as those brown-skinned people are banging out those novels, there isn’t a single distinction in his eyes.

This isn’t the first time that Thompson’s pen has applied troubling generalizations to ethnic literature. While reviewing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, a book concerning itself with Nigeria, Thompson decried “the destructive effect of colonialism on Africa and its peoples” as “conventional” and “clich├ęd,” as if simply dwelling upon this cataclysmic shift of cultures was somehow devoid of complexities. (Maud noted this earlier this month.)

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2 Comments

  1. It is deeply ignorant of the variety of Indian literature too, especially of authors like Raj Kamal Jha and Siddhartha Deb, original novelists of great insight and talent, far in scope and technique from Rushdie and Mistry. Truly, this was an awful review, telling us more about Thompson’s ignorance of the literature of a nation of one billion people, than providing any useful or insightful context for Chandra’s work.

  2. Um, weren’t you just the same racist in your Jon Franzen review above? You just phrased it in the form of a question. “Do we need any more white male books like this.” …

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