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Saturday, 3 March 2018

Fire Sermon & The Book of Chocolate Saints

In her interesting Guardian review of Jamie Quatro’s Fire Sermon, Molly McCloskey asks, given intellectual life generally has become secularised:

'How, then, are we to read a novel in which the protagonists – intellectuals, academics, adulterers – are believers, their struggles conveyed not with irony but with earnestness? How, from the writer’s point of view, to convey the weight of sin, the claustrophobia that must result from its commission, when writing about characters who have faith?'

Faith also features in Jeet Thayil's The Book of Chocolate Saints which is 'a profound and often very funny meditation on worship, representation and reality, partly inspired by his own childhood.' 

Preti Taneja writes:

'Thayil was born in 1959 and grew up in a Syrian Christian family in Kerala, south India; his father is the critically acclaimed journalist and biographer TJS George. Religion and art rubbed shoulders: the faith is one of the oldest forms of Christianity. Services are still conducted in Aramaic, the language of Jesus. Thayil remembers his grandmother was able to recite all the words of the service, though she did not know what they meant. He was surrounded by an iconography of blond, blue-eyed saints. The inherent betrayal in this only became clear to him years later.

“I realised that so many of the saints that we think of as white, as Caucasian, were not,” he says. “They were swarthy, dark skinned, black haired, unwashed men and women. I got very excited and I started looking for these saints and it’s astonishing how many there are.” A series of saint poems – some based on real people, some imagined – are in the new book.

The book’s elusive hero is Newton Francis Xavier, a fictional poet from the real Bombay school of the 1970s and 80s, who later lives in New York. Alcoholic, wild man, painter, star – he’s a composite of many people including the celebrated Indian modern artist FN Souza and the revered Indian English-language poet Dom Moraes.'

Paintings by F N Souza can be seen in All Too Human at Tate Britain which as Matthew Collings notes 'has a large section devoted to a good and energetic Indian communist painter ... who lived in London in the Fifties and Sixties.' Mark Hudson writes that one of the show’s “discoveries” is 'the London-based Indian mystical expressionist FN Souza': 'If the sudden appearance of a knowingly primitive, magic-realist sensibility feels anomalous amid the prevailing austerity-era drabs and khakis of the School of London, the best of Souza’s works such as the jagged, Voodoo-flavoured Crucifixion, 1959, and the towering and frankly intimidating Black Woman, 1961, share a kind of haggard spiritual kinship with [Francis] Bacon – a sense of torment, common to the post-war period, that goes deeper than style.'


Eric Bibb - Forgiveness Is Gold.

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