Black Avatar and Other Essays is the first nonfiction collection by internationally acclaimed poet, novelist, and translator Amit Majmudar. Combining elements of memoir, biography, history, and literary criticism, the eight pieces in this deeply engaging volume reflect the author’s comprehensive studies of the American, European, and Indian traditions, as well as his experiences in both suburban Ohio and in the western Indian state of Gujarat.
The volume begins with the title piece, a fifteen-part examination of “How Colorism Came to India.” Tracing the evolution of India’s bias in favor of light skin, Majmudar reflects on the effects of colonialism, drawing upon sources ranging from early Sanskrit texts to contemporary film and television. Enhancing his analysis is a “visual guide” of full-color images.
Other essays illuminate subjects both timely and timeless. “The Ramayana and the Birth of Poetry,” for example, discusses how suffering is portrayed in art and literature (“The spectrum of suffering: slapstick on one end, scripture on the other, with fiction and poetry . . . in the vastness between them”), while in “Five Famous Asian War Photographs”—a 2018 Best American Essays selection—Majmudar analyzes why these iconic images of atrocity have such emotional resonance. In “Nature/Worship,” another multi-part piece, the author turns his attention to climate change, linking notions of environmentalism to his ancestral tradition of finding divinity within natural world, connections that form the basis of religious belief.
Perhaps the greatest achievement of these wide-ranging essays is the prose itself—learned yet lively, erudite yet accessible—nimbly revealing the workings of a wonderfully original mind.
PRAISE FOR BLACK AVATAR AND OTHER ESSAYS
Eschewing the facile, euphemistic language that characterizes so much writing on the subject of skin color, Majmudar weaves together memoir, religious learning, and literary criticism to produce a brilliant meditation on its role in Hindu culture and beyond. Rounding out the collection are shorter but no less insightful essays on the Ramayana, war photography, idolatry, Marcus Aurelius, and more. —The New Criterion
In his first work of nonfiction, author Amit Majmudar blends memoir, social commentary, history, literary criticism, and more. Among other things, he explores ancient Indian texts and what they might have to teach us about climate change; the role of colonialism in continuing colorism in India; and the complicated legacies of war photography. His essays are sharp, beautifully written, and full of intricate connections between disparate subjects. —Book Riot
252 pages | 6 x 9
17 color plates
ISBN: (pbk) 978-1-946724-61-8