I find I get more pleasure reading around among the many offshoots of Kafka that rereading Kafka himself. Can Xue has Kafka in back of her somewhere, but Naiyer Masud’s first-person dreamscapes are tied a little too easily to the fact that he’s a translator, into Urdu, of Kafka. Lucknow exists in Masud’s stories as a kind of isolation chamber of the old in the new, and perhaps a particular, older Islamic cultural life in contemporary India. There’s a tremendous sense of stagnation and ferment and of how memory and consciousness are impacted by these, like water passing through rock.
‘Interregnum’ is a father-son story, of patrimony and instruction and resistance to both. The narrator puzzles over what and how and who is teaching him, and over the traces of his father, a mason, in the restored decoration of the city.
Someone once noted that Oshima’s Merry Christmas, Mister Lawrence is more or less the only POW movie where the whole story doesn’t revolve around escape. I don’t know exactly why that seems like the only thing for me to say about Masud’s work and his Lucknow, a city that to my knowledge was his lifelong residence, but I’m going to go with it.
In Essence of Camphor, The New Press, 1999