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A Culturally-Embedded Complex Text

Somdatta Mandal

Edited by Nandini Bhattacharya
Primus Books, New Delhi, 2015, pp. 232, Rs. 1195.00


Gora in Bengali is considered to be the best novel by Rabindranath Tagore for its epic range. Though written between 1907 and 1909 (when the author was in his forties), the action of the text is clearly set at least thirty years earlier, in the early 1880s and takes into account events that happened even earlier. If one takes into consideration the moment of Gora’s birth, then the action of the narrative should be said to begin from the year 1857. The novel is considered central to the nation question because it captures the Indian nationalist upsurge of the late nineteenth-early twentieth century in all its tragic complexity. Gora is produced in an awareness of Lord Curzon’s proposed partition of Bengal and the consequent crystallization of the Bengal-Indian identity. The narrative evokes the image of a beauteous golden Bengal and this evocation also sustains the longing for its distinct identity and the urge for an emancipated desh (nation). At the same time the novel is equally embedded in questions of religion, modernity, and more particularly, orthodox Hinduism’s negotiation with colonial modernity’s ‘secular’ representations. It maps the ideological upheavals within the Bengali Hindu psyche, enunciating the first phase of Young Bengal’s arrogant agnosticism, the second phase of the emergence of reformist sects such as the Brahmo Samaj, and the final phase of resurgent neo-Hinduism that asserts itself in an unabashed, aggressive manner. It is also this neo-Hindu revival/resurgence in Bengal that also shapes its nationalist intent. Yet, Tagore’s narrative is resolved by demolishing the very basis of any firm identity position. In its broadest and most humane of senses, Gora is rendered ‘foundational’ to India today. The book under review revisits Tagore’s text from perspectives as varied and interdisciplinary as textual and genre studies; translation and reception studies; narration, gender, race and caste studies. The eleven contributors, including the editor have assessed the novel from as many different perspectives as possible and thus give us a comprehensive understanding of this complex yet seminal text. Gora was published serially in Prabasi from August 1908 to February 1910 in 76 chapters and a conclusion. In April 1909, while twenty instalments of Gora had been published and eight more were to come, Kuntaline Press published an incomplete edition of the novel. It contained the first 44 chapters till Lalita’s attempt to start a girls’ school at Sucharita’s house and its failure. This ...

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