The Power Of Literature

Haris Khan explores how literature wields so much power in movements around the world for freedom, liberty and humanity.

Several years ago, I first heard your name when you won the Booker Prize for The God of Small Things and since then have been following your remarkable journey. I bought that novel and began to read it. While reading and exploring the pages of the novel, I was fascinated with the writing style, selection of words and the aspects explored in the plot.

Roy's maiden novel The God Of Small Things was greeted in 1997 by unprecedented attention from critics and the media alike. It created a wave globally and took much attention and praise. 

Roy's novel is about two fraternal twins in India whose lives are dictated by tragedies in their past. Significant themes include family, loyalty, forbidden love, colonialism/post-colonialism, education discrimination, and social class inequality. 

Arundhati Roy achieved international fame in 1997 with her debut novel, which not only garnered large advances from publishers but also earned her the prestigious Booker Prize.

The journey continued and later on, I bought her other books, which always enlightened me and opened the new aspects and perspectives on many thoughts. Her interviews, talks and candid conversations have always impacted the people globally. She is also a political activist involved in human rights and environmental causes. Fearlessness and rebelliousness have always highlighted her writings and personality. I have always been inspired by those people whom have challenged the orthodox and established thoughts while remaining the advocates of the status quo to secure the worst stakes. These are the ones who have always stood against the monarchies, dictatorships and religious extremism through their “Words, Thoughts and Action.” I  always think and remember the great shining names who fought this battle with conviction.

Several landmark examples of dissenting writers played a significant role for the wider dissident movement. These include the persecutions of Osip Mandelstam, Boris Pasternak, Mikhail Bulgakov and Joseph Brodsky, as well as the publication of The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Maya Angelou (American memoirist and poet), Virginia Woolf (English writer) and Leona Josefa Florentino (A Filipina poet) who wrote in Spanish and is considered as the "mother of Philippine women's literature", serving as the "bridge from oral to literary tradition" and the pioneer in Philippine lesbian literature.

 Before ending this, I would like to also share below some historical lines from a poem “Requiem” which is an elegy by Anna Akhmatova (Russian Poet) about the suffering of people under the Great Purge. It was written over three decades, between 1935 and 1961. She carried it with her, redrafting, as she worked and lived in towns and cities across the Soviet Union.

Let me also add that this poem was written in those troubled days and she explained the brief background in her own words as:

“During the frightening years of the Yezhov terror, I spent seventeen months waiting in prison queues in Leningrad. One day, somehow, someone 'picked me out'. On that occasion there was a woman standing behind me, her lips blue with cold, who, of course, had never in her life heard my name. Jolted out of the torpor characteristic of all of us, she said into my ear (everyone whispered there) - 'Could one ever describe this?' And I answered - 'I can.' It was then that something like a smile slid across what had previously been just a face. [The 1st of April in the year 1957. Leningrad]”

Madness with its wings has covered half my soul, It feeds me fiery wine and lures me into the abyss. That's when I understood while listening to my alien delirium that I must hand the victory to it. Weep not for me, mother. I am alive in my grave.

- Anna Akhmatova