September 16, 2007

Naeem Murr's "A Perfect Man" - Is There One?

Naeem Murr's "A Perfect Man" may be an affirmation by the author that this, much- sought-after 'perfect' being, doesn't exist. The novel centerspreads, highlights, and near celebrates the frailty of man; almost as if saying there is no way a man can be perfect because then, he'd be god, and 'life' would cease to happen. Isn't it the foibles and the shortcomings of man that make up what we call life? The rage, the vendetta, the jealousy, and the betrayal, are but some of the colorful etchings of man on the landscape of life as he prances his way through it, and Murr takes us through the many prancings of men in the 1950s in Pisgah, a small town on the Missourie River. Raj(ive) Travers, a half Indian man, happens to be one of those men. The novel is a coming-of-age story of Rajive and his two friends Annie and Lew who live in Pisgah, a small town, that on the surface appears mute and placid, but has repeatedly proved vulnerable and has many brutal skeletons to hide.

Raj's identity is what intrigues the reader at the outset; what is a British-accented, black male, who is not a 'negro', doing in the back waters of Missourie in the 1950s? This is the hook that Mr. Murr throws at the reader, and the hook is obviously sharp and strong as it carries the reader through the first half of the book with a quiet ease. However, it is more than just luring and colorful charcterization that sustains the reader's interest; Naeem Murr's writing has a poetic quality about it that lulls the reader into an easy rhythm that is hard to break out of. His writing is both lyrical and evocative even though the unfolding of the plot is slow and deliberate, almost like that of a suspense novel. It's as if the author is letting go of an engripped reader bit by bit, without releasing the tension.

Mr Murr has laid out a plethora of flawed characters each of who is almost likable because he is so real. Pisgah becomes the stage where human frailty is laid bare but rarely accompanied with blame or judgement. There is the father who abandons his young son, another who is a voyeur and preys even on his teenage daughter, a priest who is a drunkard, a woman who loves one man yet sleeps with another, and men at large who condone lewd and abusive behavior. Naeem Murr's novel casts an indulgent eye on all of them and lets life happen; there is rape, racism, infidelity, brutality, suicide, and depravity of the worst kind, yet it is all so acceptable and so normal in Pisgah.

"The Perfect Man" is a strange but compelling read that unfolds with unexpected twists and turns and makes for some engrossed reading. As you might have guessed, I really enjoyed this read, especially the epistolary exchange between Annie and Raj toward the end of the book which made me ponder on the title. Who is Murr's "Perfect Man", or is he a chimera, an eternal work- in- progress? Is he perhaps the evolved, tested, and tried Rajive of the M.I.T fame who we see at the end of the novel?

"No matter how great an is condemmed to live and find its ultimate expression through indiduals, character". These words of Murr may help us answer the question...perhaps.


Sharique said...

I think I cannot afford to miss this :)

BTW I cannot understand this part-
"Is he perhaps the evolved, tested, and tried Rajive of the M.I.T fame"

Lotus Reads said...

I remember this book! There was a lot of talk (all good) when it came out last year or was it the year before last?

Anyway, there's no way I can resist this novel after your brilliant review! I would love to see how Raj Travers goes through life in that small town in the 1950's where people rarely saw or interacted with "colored" folk. I am also looking forward to Naeem Murr's writing and the exploration of what it is to be the perfect man.

Great pick, Id, I am really looking forward to reading this one!

Pacze Moj said...

If you'd like a Karagarga invite, just drop me an email, id it is.

Id it is said...

By that I meant that perhaps Murr is presenting his mature chief protagonist, Raj, at the very end of the novel, as the "Perfect Man'; one who has been tried and tested in the fires of rascism, betrayal, and other such tribulations that life doled out to him in his youth; despite which he manages to get admission into a premier institution of learning like M.I.T on a full scholarship! Was Murr holding him up as "The Perfect Man"?

net-net4 said...

Hi Id It Is !
Thanks for the last poem...
Very nice....

I came back to leave here the one you wrote before :

"A rectangle with a square within
with hues and colors never seen
a mixer's match with a dab 'n dash
deeper meanings to words attach"
- Id It Is -

I would like to add
Very exhaustif your new article here. Makes me feel fine....

Khakra said...

Interesting indeed.. does this draw from the stereotype of the "Raj"? Like during the days when the British occupied India and an Englishwoman defied the family by falling in love with a "black" gentleman (aka Indian man)? There was a time when many English romance novels drew from that stereotype, so this could be an interesting throwback to that genre.

It generally seems to jump into many different time periods which makes it interesting. Gotta pick it up soon!

And off-topic, you ever heard of SASIALIT?

pRicky said...

I could have sworn You had done a review of Parazania.
Please mail me the link if you had.

Id it is said...


Well the novel does remind us of those cross cultural romances that became popular after the British started losing hold on their colonies, but thsi novel is a trifle different because it places a colored man in a foreign environment that does not really recognize his Indian ethnicity but wonder about his relative lightness of skin as compared to a black mans.
You'll enjoy this novel.


I don't recognize that name and I haven't done a review on that. Is it a novel or a movie?

Manas Shaikh said...

This was a nice review. You tend to make me feel like reading a lot of books. Only if I had the time! (but then, I can always cut down on the net!)

pRicky said...

its a movie.
Damn I was so sure you had done it that I put your name in my recent post.
Damn, are you sure?

Dr. Deb said...

Sounds like anothe great book. Where *do* you find the time to read so much? I envy that :)

Khakra said...

a person who denies his indian ethnicity doesn't deserve to be indian...umm.. that would be me! heh, just kidding!

SASIALIT is a South Asian Literature discussion group. You can subscribe to it and get e-mail with people discussing Indian books past and present. It can get annoying at times, and lots of e-mail may flow in, so open a new e-mail account for it. But the discussion is intense and it'll provide an insight to South Asian literature you won't see anywhere.

starry nights said...

Thanks for the review. I defintly have to read it.sounds intriguing.

D said...

Hey III...have you thought of opening a public library? Please do...where we can read all the books after going through your reviews :-)