Sara Suleri  Meatless Days    World Literature in English

Biography Synopsis Reviews

  World Literature in English (undergraduate) (syllabus, 98, 99)   Postconial Literature and Theory (graduate)
Relevant Links: 
Culture and Religion: India & Pakistan Further Studies
General Issues: 
  • gender and nation
  • The role of Third World Women (including some of us) in colonization and national movements.
  • imigrants' family relationships (husband-wife, mother-daughter)
  • Body, the idea of being "meatless" and Writing 
Sara Suleri Goodyear is Professor of English at Yale University and a founding editor of the Yale Journal of Criticism.  She is the author of The Rhetoric of English India [U. Chicago, 1992] and Meatless Days [U. Chicago, 1989].

"the novel is not about getting inside but is about showing what happened, without explanation, with "no introductions"

(Interview, December 1990 "Novel or Autobiography?")
A remarkable writer offers a remarkable look at the violent history of Pakistan's independence with the author's most intimate memories--of her Welsh mother, an English teacher of spare, abstracted eloquence; of her Pakistani father, a prominent and frequently jailed political journalist; of her tenacious grandmother; and of the friends who accompany her own passage to the West. A profoundly moving literary work. 
Reviews of Meatless Days:
her life marked by, and parallel to, public events:
Independence (2) Middle Years (5-7)--and the end (7) the trying time (winter, 1971)civil war time (Yahya Khan --Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto  ) the summer of trials by fire:  General Zia; Islamization (16-17)
move into Punjab her isolation--stop talking to her son; smell death (8); being carried family problems (9); Dadi oblivious of the proliferation of her grandchildren; quickening of time  Irfan (11-12), mother's going back to Wales, our part (powerlessness, violence, lack of innocent love) in history (14); 
Dadi's being burned in April (10-11; 14)--stopped praying
children left, 
mother buried, Dadi died in the same week when Bhutto was hanged (17-18); Ifat died (18)
II. the national and the religious--politicization and de-santification of religion

III. Body, the idea of being "meatless" and Writing
A. the death and departure of the family members
B. other experience of loss (quotations given by leading questions offered by Sara Suleri site at Browns U.)

  • (Mair Jones--Surraya Suleri) the mother's experience of displacement (9-); 12; her views of race and skin colors 160-161; away into her childhood 161; relocate herself; a Pakistani with a disembodied Englishness 163; learning to live apart; 165
  • Sara's p. 18
  • Throughout Meatless Days Suleri invokes the idea of lost things -- audiences, people, culture, history, geography, words, and so on:

         "My audience is lost, and angry to be lost, and both of us must find some token of exchange for this failed conversation." (2)

         "Our congregation in Lahore was brief, and then we swiftly returned to a more geographic reality. "We are lost, Sara," Shahid said to me on the phone from England. "Yes, Shahid," I firmly said, "We're lost." (19)

         "When I teach topics in third world literature, much time is lost in trying to explain that the third world is locatable only as a discourse of convenience. Trying to find it is like trying to pretend that history or home is real and not located precisely where you are sitting." (19-20)

    and NOTES  for
    "Papa and Pakistan"

    IV. the issue of Third World Woman

    and NOTES for

    "What Mama Knew"

  • "And then it happens. A face, puzzled and attentive and belonging to my gender, raises its intelligence to question why, since I am teaching third world writing, I haven't given equal space to women writers on my syllabus... Against all my own odds I know what I must say. Because, I'll answer slowly, there are no women in the third world" (20). So ends the first chapter of Meatless Days.  Why are there no women in the third world?  How is the mother treated in the chapter "What Mamma Knew"?
    1. the role of the father; and mother's response e.g. p. 15-16 Father's Islamic craze; does not attend Dadi's funeral 17;
    2. no women--missing women
    no women--because 1. no such concept as woman, impossible to define, 2. her leaving Pakistan; 3. the third world only appear in discourse of convenience; 4. few women writing

    Pakistani women--khala love (9) as distraction--being abstracted and absorbed (Dadi-p. 6, Mother -p. 10)--aware of something (p. 10)--aware of their part of violence in history=sense of loss--

  • Mother's communication with her daughters 16
  • Mother associated with Jane Austin and Mrs. Ramsay 151-53
  • the mother with "impossible edges"; with stories that fall short;  as a writer that cares about the characters

  • vs. Sara --as one that wants to change plot, mix people (154)
  • the mother's lesson: unplot yourself, let be p. 156; "Take disappointment" 169
  • mother outside of her body 156; will not grip 159; be herself in every available manner, p. 168, while we are "a moment in her successive transformation."
  • father-mother p. 157, mother gravely listening; the "greatest thing" in her life 158
  • father-mother's different uses of language--front page vs. scarf 168
  • both sweet and cold 166
  • Sara--the writer can not lay hands on "the body of her water" 159;
  • V.  Being "meatless" and Writing
  • image of flesh/meat: the goat (5), Dadi's 14;  Ifat and Mamma's bodies 19
  • ideas about writing and identity: reading titles and mother's face 151; "how can syntax hold around a name?" (155)

  • Please read last chapter
  • p. 173  "For whom are you writing, David asked me..."  --the idea of "hollow" names,
  • p.177-178  last paragraph "Living in language is tentamount to living with oother people.  Both are postures . . " --the idea of bailing out signicance and peeling it; turning habitation into habit,
  • & p. 186 last paragraph --the idea of breaking bodies, hiding the Adam's rib and having a re-birth

  • Criticism
    ' Suleri [says] that any further fiction that she may write inevitably will be about Pakistan via the West or vice versa. In any case, Suleri says her work sits "between genres," at once neither fiction nor non-fiction. "There's a lot of fiction in it. Some of the characters I invented, some of the incidents I invented. Minor things, when it was necessary," she says. Lest the reader assume entire key passages were fabricated, Suleri admits she changed mostly temporal elements such as chronology. For example, she is not sure that when her mother was teaching Emma that she was involved in the theater: "I compressed time, brought it closer together" so that the scene would work, she says (interview, December 1990; Yishane Lee Sara Suleri, Salman Rushdie, and Post-Colonialism).

    Relevant links:

  • Sara Suleri: "Woman Skin Deep" and Meatless Days. (Course notes by Kate Liu, Fu Jen Literary Criticism databank
    •  the case of the Hudood Ordinances of 1979 (prescribing 'Islamic' punishments) which laid down their own special rules of evidence for hadd offences, the new law of evidence provided that two male witnesses or in the absence of two male witnesses one male and one female witness would be required to prove a crime. This law as well as other proposed legislation, equated one man to two women. This was so, for example, in the proposed new laws of Qisas and Diyat which provided for financial compensation to be given to the injured party by an accused in lieu of punishment in cases of murder or bodily injury, it being held that in such cases the 'Islamic' remedy lay not in punishment of the offender but in ompensation to be paid to the victim or his family. This law was proposed by the Council of Islamic Ideology and passed by the Majlis-e-Shoora (Zia's legislative institutions). The compensation in the case of women was to be fixed at half that for men. Such laws that put the worth of a women at half that of a man, were a powerfully symbolic factor that set the women's movement into action. 
    • The Zia regime introduced Hudood Ordinances purportedly to lay down 'Islamic' punishments for certain crimes. These were barbaric punishments such as cutting off of hands and stoning to death. There has been some controversy in the country whether these are truly Islamic prescriptions. That, as such, is not a matter that we need to pursue here except to say that even where these were not actually carried out in all cases, they carried a symbolic charge and provided a rallying point to mullahs who demanded their full implementation. Public lashings however, were carried out before vast crowds and TV cameras, quite savagely - members of the crowd urging the 'executioners' to hit 'the bastards' even harder. These were incredibly degrading sights to watch. The law that concerns us here most directly, however, is the Zina (Enforcement of Hudood) Ordinance of February 1979. This Ordinance provided a new basis, as we shall see, for intimidation and terrorisation of women by husbands or male relatives, especially amongst the urban poor, but not amongst them alone. Ironically, the Ordinance has also created a situation in which women victims of rape dare not even complain about the sexual violence done to them for fear of penalties that they themselves invite under this iniquitous law, while the culprits go Scot free because of its extra-ordinary provisions.