Ice-Candy-Man and In the Country of Men: The politics of cruelty and the witnessing child

Annie Gagiano


Using two novels employing child narrators as observers of atrocities by which they are not only profoundly affected, but in which they become implicated (respectively by a Pakistani and a Libyan author), the article sets out to try and discover how the technique of mediation by a child witness and commentator affects the reader's perception of the Partition of Pakistan from India and the early rule of Gen. Quaddafi [or Gaddafi] in Libya, North Africa. The children are pre-pubescent, but intensely aware of sexual politics and emotional cross-currents in their familial, domestic, neighbourly and social contexts as the harsh and terrible political realities of their time and setting either filter into or impact violently upon their own lives.
The offered reading is contextualized by considerations of postcolonial texts (as both Sidhwa's Ice-Candy-Man [also known by the American title of Cracking India] and Matar's In the Country of Men are, broadly speaking) as writings that can serve inter-cultural and trans-modern 'translation' purposes –  not only by their publication in English (neither author's first language), but by using each of their child narrators to make cultural 'differences' (inter-)accessible to their readers. The emphasis in both texts on non-Western cultures nevertheless does not (in either case) allow stereotypical concepts concerning members of those cultures (e.g. as being inexplicably inclined to cruelty or violence) to prevail. The profoundly affective power of the descriptions of atrocities in both books (intensified by being observed in relatively unideological and unfiltered ways) become ethical challenges to the reader.
The comparative reading techniques employed in the essay are used to sharpen the focus on how each of the children is ineluctably affected by what she or he witnesses and to indicate how both of them are 'betrayed into betrayal'.

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