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All About H. Hatterr (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – November 6, 2007
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“In all my experience, I have not met with anything quite like it.” –T. S. Eliot
"Bless him, [Desani] does mash it up, bending orthography, stretching syntax, mixing in shards of Hindi, Hungarian, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, German and a goodly dose of balderdash, whilst tossing in references to Whitman, Shakespeare, Socrates, Freud and appeals to Kama and Laxmi as well as to Allah and Christ. Only a quasi-outsider (an Irishman, say) could have such an irreverent ear for the Anglo-Saxon tongue. But Hatterr is more readable by miles than Finnegans Wake, and a lot more fun." -Ben Ehrenreich, Los Angeles Times
“A mischievous mulligatawny that reads like a collaboration between Mrs. Malaprop and Groucho Marx…At the end you may not quite know where you’ve been, but you understand you’ve had a helluva trip.” –Newsweek
“A bizarre and delightful voice…to paraphrase would be travesty.” –Time
"The instrument of subservience became a weapon of liberation. It was the first great stroke of the decolonizing pen." –Salman Rushdie
“Eclectic, nourishing, do-it-yourself subcontinental stew.” –Githa Hariharan
"Now…you can marvel at one of the great verbal extravaganzas in the English (more or less) language." –The Nation
"A rewarding feast of fish and fowl, fiction and philosophy, hilarity and hope." –The New York Times
“One doesn’t explain a work like this, or attempt to describe it. You simply let the language flow like the lyrics of a Calypso song, or a subdued show of stroboscopic lights.” –The San Francisco Chronicle
“Mr. Desani is a writer of great originality, who is making a contribution…all his own.” –C. P. Snow
"Desani is undoubtedly a master in the creative use of English–puns, parodies, colloquialisms–and an accomplished artist in the invention of a new language." –World Literature Today
"Challenging, stimulating, and thoroughly delightful." –Austin-American Statesman
A “linguistic groundbreaker” –The Guardian (UK)
“G. V. Desani - whose brilliant 1940s shaggy-dog novel All About H Hatterr inspired Midnight's Children - what enchants, is a 'rigmarole English', as Hatterr would say, all its own.” –The Guardian (UK)
“A comic masterpiece…This books is one of the funniest I have read for many years…Desani’s verbal invention is indefatigable, his linguistic sources inexhaustible.”–Philip Toynbee, The Observer (UK)
About the Author
G. V. Desani (1909—2001) was born Nairobi, Kenya and raised in India. In the late 1930s, and throughout the war, he was a BBC broadcaster and lectured on India. He contributed regularly to The Times of India's Illustrated Weekly and produced a weekly opinion page called "Very High and Very Low." He moved to the United States in 1970 to teach at Boston University and subsequently the University of Texas at Austin, where he was a Professor of Religion and Philosophy.
Anthony Burgess (1917–1993) was a prolific novelist, composer, librettist, essayist, semanticist, translator, and critic. He is best known for the novel A Clockwork Orange.
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‘Melodramatic gestures against public security are a common form of self-expression in the East. For instance, an Indian peasant, whose house has been burgled, will lay a tree across a railway line, hope to derail a goods train, just to show his opinion of life. And the magistrates are far more understanding….’
So begins G. V Desani’s novel All About H Hatterr. To say it is unique would be an understatement. Suffice to say that the event mentioned in the Warning is comparatively saner than the ones which follow.
The novel is about the adventures or rather misadventures of Mr Hatterr, told in first person, at the hands of the ash smeared gurus of ‘Rangoon(now resident in India)’, Madras, Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi and Mogalsarai-Varanasai and ‘his naked holiness Number one the Sage of All India himself’.
The chapters follow an exotic framework –
Digest at the beginning of the chapter which gives away nothing,
Instruction– the ‘wise’ words of the guru;
Presumption– understanding of Mr Hindustani Haterr and;
Life Encounter -the events which were supposedly to be the learning for the hapless protagonist Mr Hatterr; but which always end up in dire circumstances for Mr Hatterr. Finally Mr Banerjee, his dear friend and one who swears by the Bard of Avon, extricates him. In the novel Shakespeare is oft quoted and copied. The novel opens with a conversation parodying a piece from Hamlet.
Towards the end there is a critique of Mr Hatterr’s work by Shri Y Beliram who was Mr Haterr’s counsel and is now 504 Sriman Vairagi Parivrajaka, Vanasprathi, Acharya. (He is yet to reach the holy number of 1008 as he has not embraced celibacy) . The ‘iron handed defence’ brings 80 points (10x8) in favour of Mr Hatterr and his contribution to humanity i.e, by going through the sufferings at the hands of the sages thereby relieving the rest of the world to learn minus the pain.
Given this structure, it is little wonder that at the beginning of the novel the Author reproduces the conversation with an Indian middle-man who wants to know how the composition has to be identified as the “rank and file are entitled to know.” The author, of course, declares it as a novel.
If the form and storyline of the novel are bizarre the language and style compliment the structure. Consider some samples below :
'....The best course now open is to prepare a brief, which I subsequently get rectified by ours mutually...'
'...Between vous and moi make it February 31st. Second notions, don’t wire me! Radio moi un coup de telphonee!..'
'...When I arrived, I wanted to sit down post-haste; to ward off the fatigoo and nurse the pedestals...'
'...The fellow had pilfered and profited by my idea and I wanted to learn him a lesson....'
'...I am exulting over the thousand I got out of it. What a honey-fall!...'
'....Please unfold your innermost to me to your heart’s content. Give me a piece of your mind. I shall regard your confidence as demi-official secret. ..‘
'...Urgently advised eile mit weile : in German language meaning, make haste ( to read) but slowly, madam, gentleman or offspring!...'
The language is fast paced and takes a bit of time to get used to. Not only does the author make his original substitutions in the known idioms as we can see from the samples above, he liberally uses Hindi words “mugger” for crocodile, maro ( to hit) , manchor (charmer), and numerous others. He also uses expressions from many other languages German, French, Hungarian were a few I could make out.
It is the synergetic combination of language and form that the novel gets this bizarre, exotic and immensely enjoyable quality.
Another reviewer has mentioned that the Digests at the beginning of each chapter hardly give away what is to follow; they make a lot sense after you read the chapter. This is so true. Its only after you have read the chapter - Versus the Impresario, that you can see the terrific humour hidden in “ …He (Hatterr) is , consequently, face to face with a Portuguese – speaking lion….”
As I read this book I often wondered what made the author write this strange book; how much erudition he had and the effort he must have made to give this the peculiar twist. The way I saw it , may be to write and immensely enjoyable piece; and maybe, as a bit of revolt against the British, their pure language and the bogus spiritual gurus and the Indian way of speaking English? The rebellion is not in the story alone but in the way it is told and the language used.
This belongs to the category of those lesser known novels which need to have a wider audience, it will make more people happier. It is bewitching and enjoyable though a bit of a challenge at times.
That's how I got hold of the amazing *All About H. Hatterr*, though I admit that initially I was captivated by the oddity of the missing um, parts on the nude men who decorate the cover.
As others have pointed out, the style of Desani's English is a salient factor in this book. Have you heard the way that people speak (it seems more noticeable in the males, somehow) who have Hindi as their first language and English as a strong second? There is a kind of rushed enthusiasm in every sentence, ending in a sort of exclamation! Even if the sentence is not sublimely important! It is like that anyway! Every sentence is like that!
Well, this whole BOOK is like that.
The theme of the book, which is apparently "all gurus are phony", is a sad one. Another theme seems to be "an Indian can never be really respected and accepted by Westerners no matter how smart, nice, and knowledgeable he is" -- I can't argue about that, I lack the experience; but I know that something similar is true for short old ladies, so I suspect H. Haterr is correct on this one.
Others have commented on the style of the book, which carries the excitement, energy, and oddity of the language use into its form and arrangement.
It's EXTREMELY original! READ IT!
I only gave it four stars because a) I didn't like the conclusion that all gurus are phony and b) at times I was just too, too confused and/or bored while reading it.
If you are interested in the ALL GURUS ARE FAKE theme, be sure to see the film *Kumare*, which is devoted to that subject. To my mind, Kumare comes to a rather different conclusion than he, or we, would expect.