Joy Ride in to American University Life
By Mustahid Hossain
September 11th, going to the U.S. to study was almost every
Bangladeshi teenager's dream. 'America' represented everything
a young person craved for freedom, individuality, and the
absence of parental control. But many who have gone to the
States for the first time can be overwhelmed by a culture
that is so different from their own. Markini Uradhura (which
roughly translated means American Trivia) by Mustahid Hossain,
however, is a virtual joy ride into American university
culture. Now a systems analyst with General Elective and
a PHD candidate at the University of Maine, Hossain in this
book gives a detailed account of his early days from 1997
as a student at the University of Arizona. The book is filled
with amusing anecdotes about culture shock and the writer's
struggle to get over them.
first time he encounters a doghnut, he asks with typical
Muslim concern whether there is any pork inside. The retort
from the salesperson is understandable: "Are you on
drugs dude?" That is what is so appealing about the
book. The writer has the humility to laugh at himself to
expose himself as a young naïve Bangladeshi trying
to get a grip of 'cool' American culture.
spite of being adequately familiar with the English Language
Mustahid is constantly baffled with its American incarnation.
'Prawn' is called 'Shrimp, a soft drink is a 'soda' and
a 'screw driver' is a cocktail of vodka and orange juice
and not necessarily just a handy tool.
any young Bangladeshi, with limited experience of western
culture, Mustahid is a little taken aback by the free mixing
of sexes, the ‘keg parties’ and the casualness with which
relationships are made and broken.
book captures the excitement and wonder of a young international
student; his first sky-diving experience, the demands of
university life, working part time, travelling to the Grand
Canyon and Las Vegas, dorm culture and so on.
writer also dwells on that lethal sentiment every human
being is gripped by in a foreign land: homesickness. No
matter how many friends you have, no matter how much strangeness
you can take, there's no place like home. Mustahid tries
to deal with his homesickness as any average Bangladeshi
student would--cooking khichuri, listening to Bangla songs
and getting together with fellow Bangalis for Eid. Meanwhile
his American counterparts get a crash course on Bangladeshi
culture arranged marriages, hartals and the efficacy of
'dholai', which he describes as 'a type of illegal medicine'.
Markini Uradhura is refreshingly light-hearted and up beat.
Hossain decides to portray every detail with positivism
and there is a distinct feeling that all throughout his
experiences he is having quite a blast. He is not judgmental,
rather bemused by the stark contrasts in cultures. Yet he
has the ability to overcome his limitations, to overlook
strange norms and appreciate the warmth of friends, the
beauty of this massive country, the professional dedication
of people and the ease with which young people no matter
where they are from, connect in the most unexpected ways.
by Aasha Mehreen Amin
Barnes's love affair with France is based on a wilful fantasy.
JASON COWLEY detects a taint of vanity publishing in this
collection of recycled journalism, Something
Picador, £8.99 pp302
Barnes's most celebrated novels -- Flaubert's Parrot and
The History of the World in 10½ Chapters -- are not
really novels, they are stylised essays in which Barnes
excels at smoothing the world into knowing aphorism and
bit of art criticism, some literary biography, a couple
of pages of history, the odd self-revealing nugget or two
-- it's all there in Barnes. But he isn't at his best as
a writer of fiction, at making things up: his intelligence
is too controlling, his tone too often superior, he has
little gift for character or narrative, no real vision of
contemporary crisis. There's something anodyne about even
his best work; it has the cerebral coldness of a crossword
or mathematical puzzle.
don't read Barnes to be transported into imaginary realms,
or to encounter the struggle and pathos of humanity. You
read him, rather, for that superior tone and for his voice;
in many ways, his novels are all voice - amused, languorous,
insouciant and arch. You read him for his hauteur, his gift
of cultivated digression and for his riffs and anecdotes.
Above all, you read him as an essayist, one of our best.
any newspaper columnist who can sustain an argument of more
than 1,000 words is recognised as an essayist, but the popularity
of the column or 'piece' is no more than an example of the
cheap popularisation of the essay in a degraded culture.
Dr Johnson called the essay an 'irregular, undigested piece'.
That is right. The column is too regular, too finished;
it's an easily digested piece. But the essay, as perfected
by Montaigne, Charles Lamb and EB White, strives for literary
permanence. It concerns the search for a personal voice,
of the kind that animates the most successful offerings
in Barnes's new book of essays about France.
first visited France in the summer of 1959. He was 13, on
holiday with his parents, and was enchanted; he has been
returning, at irregular intervals, ever since. France, it
seems, is the idealised Other against which he measures
all other countries, including England, and finds them,
by contrast, a perplexing disappointment. He accepts many
of the stereotypes about the French: that they are Cassanovan
in sex and Machiavellian in politics; that they are 'relaxed
about pleasure' and treat the arts 'as central to life,
rather than some add-on, like a set of alloy wheels'.
there's little, for instance, that has been idealistic about
French foreign policy in recent years. The cynical cultivation
of Robert Mugabe; the disastrous, wrong-headed interventions
in Rwanda, which contributed in no small part to the genocide
of 1994; the stubborn insistence on carrying out nuclear
tests in what is left of the old Francophone Pacific island
colonies; the refusal to import British beef: France, more
than any other European liberal democracy, seems to have
acquired the knack of international self-disgrace.
the France of this disgrace and, more generally, of the
Vichy collaboration, of constant capitulation to the Germans,
of the war of independence in Algeria, of the ridiculous
Académie Française and of persistent, low-level
paranoid suspicion of les anglo-saxons isn't the France
of Barnes's imagination. It's not the gentle, refined land
he encountered in adolescence and has been wooing every
wonder, then, that the French 'revere Julian Barnes', as
Joanna Trollope reminds us on the cover of this book - he
shows them an image of themselves that they want to see.
has reached that happy stage in his life when almost anything
he writes -- reviews, prefaces, magazine profiles, shopping
lists -- is deemed worthy of collection between hard covers.
'Any new book from Julian Barnes,' his publishers tell us,
'is a major event.'
has a failing, it lies in his knowingness of tone. 'Of course,'
he writes in an essay on Richard Cobb, 'history is by its
nature an act of hindsight, of understanding, or understanding
better, what was understood less well at the time, or of
understanding again what has been temporarily forgotten.'
That 'of course' is a familiar tick, a kind of verbal wink
intended to signify that he knows more than you.
most readable essay here, first published in the New Yorker,
is about the Tour de France, what the American Lance Armstrong,
double-winner of the Tour, has called 'a contest in purposeless
suffering'. The Tour is the icon of the French nation, the
greatest and most venerated of all sporting endurance events.
is very good on the boisterous democracy of the Tour, which
is free to watch, and contrasts this with the vulgar spectacle
of commerce that is the modern mass sporting event, with
its 'professional exploitation of the fan's emotions'. Add
to this some first-class reportage (Barnes is a fine reporter,
as demonstrated by his investigation into Lloyd's of London),
an amusing reflection on Petrarch, who climbed Mont Ventoux
in 1336, and what you have is a model essay, a mini-masterpiece
of wit, precision and elegant poise. Would that he left
his desk more often.