Meena Alexander, a 67-year-old poet, scholar, and writer, was born in Allahabad to a Syrian Christian family from Kerala, and raised in India and Sudan. Her father, who was working as a scientist for the government of India, his work took them to Sudan, when the author was barely five years old. Now, she lives in the New York City, where she is working as a Distinguished Professor of English at the Hunter College and at the CUNY Graduate Center in the PhD program in English. The Statesman of India described this PEN Book Awardee as “undoubtedly one of the finest poets of contemporary times.”
Her novel, “Manhattan Music” is set in New York city. The story moves around the life of Sandhya Rosenblum, who is an immigrant from India. She is married to an American Jewish man, and tries to make sense of her life in a time of unrest. In this comprehensive novel, which is set in Manhattan and India, the author explores a lot of diverse elements and adding on to the diversity, by going over through the borders, Indian diaspora, ethnic intolerance, interracial issues and marriages, and various other things that add to an American life these days.
Manhattan Music is in reality a post-colonial tale set in New York in the 1990s. It explores the life of a lady, Sandhya (who is in her thirties), who finds herself disturbed by memories of a dead sweetheart in her native country i.e. India, and she is eventually tending towards drifting apart from her Jewish-American husband and gets into a quest for succor with her Egyptian lover. Meanwhile, U.S.-born Draupadi Dinkins (of Indian, African, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino and European descent) struggles with her own demons and losses, and forges a life in performance art. The immigrant characters in Alexander’s novel adapt to American life but feel stretched thin, as if they should be in two places at once. One week they’re rushing halfway across the globe to the sickbed of an elderly parent; the next, stumbling around jet-lagged in New Jersey. Accordingly, Manhattan Music is not an easy or serenely melodic book: frequent changes of focus, place, time, voice and style reinforce the themes of disorientation and multiculturalism. But while the cutting creates a kaleidoscopic feeling, it also distances the reader from the characters and renders the tale choppy. Nonetheless, Alexander, the author of both fiction (Nampally Road) and non- (The Shock of Arrival), has produced another sophisticated novel reflecting the psychological realities of people coping with hyphenated identities, divided loyalties, fragmented dreams.
On reading the novel Manhattan Music, it is observed that how memories are symptomatically conjoined with the body. Anzaldua’s observation of a mestiza conforms to what Alexander narrates in Manhattan Music. Through mestiza, Anzaldua meant someone not belonging to any one specific category but an intertwining of various ranges.
Like a drifting spirit, Sandhya the protagonist throughout the narrative tries figuring out who she is, where she belongs to and how she should cope up with the current situation. The female body in the novel brings to the fore all the concerns related to migration, multiplicity of homes, memories etc. The concept of plural personality and juggling of cultures is observed.
The various dimensions of gender, culture and migration which transforms a woman; and how a search for identity to know all about herself brings forth new parameters of a diasporic woman’s self is the crux of this text.
Publisher: Mercury House
Available on: Amazon India
Price: INR 1949 (Paperback)