Shankar, S(ubramanian) 1962-
SHANKAR, S(ubramanian) 1962-
PERSONAL: Born July 28, 1962, in Salem, India; son of K. S. (a diplomat) and K. S. (a homemaker; maiden name, Champakam) Subramanian; married Anannya Bhattacharjee (a community organizer and writer), June 21, 1991; children: Ujjayan. Ethnicity: "Asian."
Education: Loyola College (Madras, India), B.A., 1984; Madras Christian College, M.A., 1986; University of Texas—Austin, Ph.D., 1993.
CAREER: University of Texas—Austin, Austin, assistant instructor, 1989-93; Rutgers University, Newark, NJ, assistant professor of English, 1993-2002; University of Hawaii—Manoa, Honolulu, assistant professor of English, 2002—.
MEMBER: Modern Language Association of America.
AWARDS, HONORS: Deutsche Welle Literature Merit Award, 1987.
I as Man (poetry), Writers Workshop (Calcutta, India), 1987.
A Map of Where I Live (novel), Heinemann (Portsmouth, NH), 1997.
Textual Traffıc: Colonialism, Modernity, and theEconomy of the Text, State University of New York Press (Albany, NY), 2001.
(Editor, with Louis Mendoza) Crossing into America:The New Literature of Immigration (anthology), New Press (New York, NY), 2003.
Work represented in anthologies, including Contours of the Heart and The Nuyorasian Anthology. Contributor to periodicals, including Tin House, Nation, Massachusetts Review, PMLA, Amerasia Journal, Indian Express, Pioneer, Samar, World Literature Today, and Chandrabhaya.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A novel; a work of cultural criticism; a translation from Tamil.
SIDELIGHTS: In his first novel, A Map of Where I Live, S. Shankar combines elements of political thriller and social satire to achieve effects that some critics considered brilliant. Set in the southern Indian city of Madras and in the fictional land of Lilliput originally created by eighteenth-century British author Jonathan Swift in his classic satire Gulliver's Travels, the novel juxtaposes two seemingly different societies to reveal the extent of their similarities. A contributor to Kirkus Reviews found the novel "beautifully rendered if often attenuated," and praised its creation of "an impressively nuanced portrait of neototalitarian societies."
Shankar's novel, which critic Joseph John in World Literature Today deemed "a minor masterpiece," is structured as two concurrent narratives. One is told by C. Ramakrishnan, an intellectual who has returned to Madras after studying in the United States. While waiting to begin law school, RK, as he is called, becomes involved in a local political campaign that turns deadly. The other narrator is Valur Vishveswaran, who reminisces about his discovery of the exact location of Gulliver's Lilliput and of the happy times he spent there. Unlike Swift's protagonist, Valur remains in Lilliput for an extended period and grows to love and respect the diminutive inhabitants of the land. After inadvertently frightening the queen, however, during her scientific exploration of his relatively huge body, he is forced to leave Lilliput. He returns to Madras hating the bandur (the "giant" people of which he is one) as much as Gulliver hated the "Yahoo-like humans."
Valur and RK's stories converge in the political violence of Madras, in a plot twist that critic John considered unsurprising. In fact, John found the Madras sections of the book "a rather lusterless narrative of political intrigue and violence" and pointed out that Shankar fails to create sufficient "satiric substructure" to establish his characters' motives. However, John admired Shankar's skill in structuring the alternating chapters in such a way as to create a dreamlike world that is nevertheless fully believable. He also praised Shankar's ironic handling of the Lilliput material to underscore Gulliver's prejudices, pointing out that the "Author's Note" Shankar appends to the novel insists that "'the Madras sections of the book are a work of fiction,' implying thereby that the Lilliput sections are of a documentary nature" and, therefore, actual. John concluded that the book's central theme "becomes a metaphor for an implied continuum between the real and the imaginary, and possibly for the ultimate unmappability of man's ontic space."
The Kirkus Reviews critic's assessment of A Map of Where I Live was also generally positive. The contributor praised Shankar's narrative skill and structural creativity, but observed that the novel finally "fails to take flight." Echoing John's point that Shankar fails to establish the satirical context for the story, the reviewer concluded that the book's "anger at human perfidy remains curiously muted."
Shankar, who was born in Salem, India, spent his childhood in Africa, Europe, and India and now lives in New York City and Honolulu, Hawaii. He told CA: "My primary motivation for writing is to understand the world we live in, with all its violence and its beauty."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Ariel, January, 1998, pp. 271-273.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 1997, review of A Map ofWhere I Live, pp. 584-585.
San Antonio Express News, May 4, 2003.
San Francisco Chronicle Book Review, March 23, 2003.
World Literature Today, winter, 1998, Joseph John, review of A Map of Where I Live, pp. 209-210.
Heinemann Press Release, July, 1997.