This is the only novel ever written about the American Peace Corps experience in Punjab. The author vividly reveals Indian society in a small rural village. The peace corps volunteer eventually realizes that what the villagers need is not his knowledge about American agriculture, but capital and machinery. The peasants already know how to grow crops and what is possible using their resources.
American Sahib by Eddie James Girdner (2016) 416 pp.
Available from Amazon.com.
This novel is largely autobiographical but contains a good deal of fiction. It is mostly about life in a Punjabi village in the late 1960s.
I wrote this book in 2015 and then put it aside for several years after publishing it. It was based upon my two years in Punjab, India (1968-1970).
I had forgotten somewhat how the narrative unfolds. So I read it again this summer to see what I would think of it.
If someone is looking for a patriotic book that only praises America, the Peace Corps, the US Government, then this is not the book. It pokes a lot of fun and criticism at the USA. And it does not spare India either. So one should read it with an open mind. If one does not have something to say, then why bother to write the book?
The book has not been sanitized by a corporatist publishing company to make it safe for a neoliberal global agenda.
The book has some love affairs. Not unusual. This often happens in life itself, so it should not be surprising to discover it between the pages of a novel. One might be surprised at how many people object to such things. So many Americans seem to have a puritanical bent of mind. Often hypocritically, however. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.
Reading the book after three years, I was rather surprised. I hoped that I could look at it somewhat more objectively. Quite frankly, I was surprised at how good it was. I just don’t know of very many books that describe life in Punjab as well as this one does. Prakash Tandon, of course, Punjabi Century and Beyond Punjab are great books. But a somewhat different genre.
I found the book to be such a revealing description of life in a remote village in Punjab and in the towns in those days. Now that was fifty years ago. Half a century of water under the bridge. The book is quite funny in many places. The book is not only literature, but a political and economic analysis of a developing country without all the academic jargon. British colonialism, Indian politics, and the USA in the global system. America as an imperialist hegemon. A good deal of political economy spills out of the pages. And what the locals think of America and Indian politics might be interesting.
The love scenes spice up the book somewhat, breaking the monotony of village life. The dichotomy between the city and the countryside is stark. Escape is necessary to keep one’s relative sanity.
The perspective of the left in India, the relevant communist analysis of society emerges. Comrades are in the street, some actual members of the Communist Party of India. The author finds their analysis honest and convincing. They are often hauled off to jail. Actually, I think the members of the US State Department could benefit by reading this book. They could certainly learn something. This would surely be their ruination, as a part of that outfit. Unfortunately.
The author cannot resist mentioning the stupid things one hears on VOA, the Voice of America. Actually, the voice of Dick Nixon in the late 1960s. One picked it up on shortwave radio, the twenty-five meter band in India. Dick, the US President, hates the Peace Corps and sets out to kill it. Or as much of it as he can. He almost did. The US Presidick, for the author.
It always amused me how US congressmen in Washington were afraid to send young Americans abroad, especially to developing countries. What were they so afraid of? Why, simply that they might learn something and bring their ideas back to America. The old mushroom syndrome once again. Keep the people in the dark and pile horse shit on them. That’s the way one grows mushrooms. Americans are mushrooms. No shit. But why insult mushrooms? They are useful.
I will not even mention Tiny Hands Trump. Things can always get worse.
There is a good deal of satire in the book. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it again.
It came to my mind that it would be incredibly instructive for students in a South Asian studies program in an American university to read. It is very informative in a simply way. But I don’t think that most American professors would have the courage to use it in their classes. The book steps on too many toes and is too unorthodox. Political correctness has ruined so much freedom in academia, it seems. The very place that it should not be ruined.
I am not saying that this is a great novel, as a novel. I do not claim to have any expertise to evaluate the book as a novel. But it is an interesting story. I think that it is a fun book. It is full of ideas. I just had some things that I wanted to say, and so I said them in the form of a novel. I would like to think that I have learned something living outside the USA for a third of a century. And all in so-called developing countries.
I guess that young Indians, especially Punjabis, might enjoy reading it. That is, if they knew about it. So many know English. The book is written in very simple language. It is also good just for entertainment. That is, if one has a critical and intellectual bent of mind.
It is not a bad book to have on one’s book shelf.
July 21, 2019. Akarca, Seferihisar, Turkey