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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Sojourn

by
Amit Chaudhuri


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Sojourn



Title: Sojourn
Author: Amit Chaudhuri
Genre: Novel
Written: 2022
Length: 126 pages
Availability: Sojourn - US
Sojourn - UK
Sojourn - Canada
Sojourn - India
from: Bookshop.org (US)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : unusual, interesting take

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Economist . 25/8/2022
Financial Times A- 18/8/2022 Jon Day
The Guardian B 25/8/2022 Edward Docx
The Hindu . 24/8/2022 Saikat Majumdar
India Today . 12/9/2022 Aditya Mani Jha
Literary Review . 9/2022 Tanjil Rashid
The Observer . 28/8/2022 Killian Fox
The Spectator . 20/8/2022 Mika Ross-Southall
The Telegraph B 15/8/2022 Nikhil Krishnan
TLS A 9/9/2022 Ruth Scurr
Wall St. Journal . 26/8/2022 Anna Mundow


  Review Consensus:

  Puzzling but appealing

  From the Reviews:
  • "Mr Chaudhuri’s writing, limpid and sparse, neatly illustrates this struggle to navigate the inner life: the fight to hold onto a fragile sense of self that can quickly disintegrate, as the surrounding world remains unperturbed, moving indifferently forward and away." - The Economist

  • "A slim, quiet novel, Sojourn is set in 2004 and narrated by an unnamed writer who shares certain similarities with Chaudhuri. (...) The prose is whittled down, showing everything in relief and reminiscent of the stripped-down emotional specificity of the modernist novels of André Breton or Samuel Beckett. Which is not to say it is not ambitious. Where Friend of My Youth was about the excavation of memory, nostalgia and misremembered friendship, Sojourn is more about the failure to connect with these things. (...) Chaudhuri is one of the most consistently interesting writers working today. You get the feeling that with each book he has to begin again, reconfigure from the ground up what he wants the novel to be and to do. It’s this radical questioning that makes him such a consistently engaging writer, and what makes this novel so memorable. I’ve read it twice and I still don’t know what Sojourn is really about. But I do know I’m still thinking about it." - Jon Day, Financial Times

  • "Sojourn is an even slimmer book than those earlier works – more compact and stripped down, as if seeking to do more with less. (...) The reading pleasure comes more in the observational turns of phrase (...) Chaudhuri in this novel is not quite the master of Proust-like prose that he was in earlier work. (...) By the end, I had grown fond of the muted tone and the disconcerting uneventfulness. All the same, I can’t help but feel that the reader is seldom uppermost in Chaudhuri’s mind." - Edward Docx, The Guardian

  • "Sojourn remains deliciously suspended in the present, avoiding the fate of recounting; our true reward is that we have a real-time immersion with every moment of reading. And after reaching the last sentence, we can go back to the beginning and start all over again, because no event, in Chaudhuri’s fiction, is ever really over." - Saikat Majumdar, The Hindu

  • "The prose soon regains its footing and as the narrator meanders around Berlin, visiting department stores, museums and an old-style dancehall (presumably Clärchens Ballhaus), the novel weaves its befuddling spell (...) We’re left with an impression of a man untethered in reality, but also of a world drained of significance, of consequence, of strong feelings or at least their outward expression." - Killian Fox, The Observer

  • "Chaudhuri is masterful at showing the effect Berlin has on the narrator. (...) Dryness and prosaic charm often punctuate the narrator’s inner voice. (...) This unassuming, elliptical style is pulled off less convincingly towards the end during a forced and foggy sequence that doesn’t make much sense. Nevertheless, we are absorbed by the 130 pages of text and its invitation to read between the lines." - Mika Ross-Southall, The Spectator

  • "(T)he new book is considerably -- and most likely deliberately -- more obscure than anything Chaudhuri has written before. (...) There is something just the slightest bit odd, or off, about his narrator, but I found it difficult to understand what. Little about his oddness is recognisable. (...) The elegant suggestiveness of the writing, its intelligence and perceptiveness, keeps one turning the pages. But a reader will need to enjoy, or at least to be at ease with, being puzzled." - Nikhil Krishnan, The Telegraph

  • "(A) beautiful meditation on memory set during a temporary stay in Berlin. (...) Chaudhuri does not use titles, names or numbers to separate the sections of his narrative. Instead there are generous spaces, including whole blank pages such as these. The effect is similar to that of reading someone’s notebook, intimate and fragmentary; but the impressions are not chronologically arranged, as they might be in an actual notebook. They circle round and double back on themselves in an artful way that shows the narrator sinking into a reckoning with Berlin’s past, which ends in a series of dizzy spells and an amnesia that includes his own name" - Ruth Scurr, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Sojourn is narrated by a Chaudhuri-like writer who has come to Berlin as a visiting 'Böll Professor' -- following, as he notes, in the footsteps of, for example, Ōe Kenzaburō. (As, indeed, Chaudhuri was a visiting professor -- albeit a Samuel Fischer Guest Professor -- at the Freie Universität Berlin in 2005/6 (as Ōe had been in 2000).)
       The slim novel is presented in short chapters, most only a page or two in length, and while there is some sense of continuity across them much is also largely simply made up of impressions and encounters. The narrator loosely connects with several people, notably Faqrul Haq, a poet who had been "booted out of Bangladesh in 1975" and established himself in Berlin (clearly modeled on Daud Haider) and a student he becomes somewhat involved with, Birgit. Others also figure, including Jonas, who is more or less his official handler (not he needs all that much handling), and the housekeeper Gerta, who comes once a week to clean his flat (and who doesn't speak English, making communication difficult; this difficulty crops up repeatedly, not just in his interactions with her).
       The narrator treats the whole experience as something slightly unreal -- so also not taking himself and his credentials all too seriously:

Jonas introduced me: as they'd invited me to be Böll Professor, they had to pretend I was a scholar of significance. I rambled on why India was a 'modern' idea, not a colonial or postcolonial one
       Among the running gags of sorts is his coming to grips with using the same toilet that Ōe had once s(h)at on, as he is given use of the same flat the Nobel laureate had lived in during his stay. (Asserting himself, the narrator gets himself moved there after first being assigned inadequate, smaller living quarters.) He is, in fact, fascinated by the toilet -- a "conundrum", because rather than being a sloped bowl: "it was mostly a slab, like a dissection table"; as someone helpfully explains, it's because Germans like: "to see for themselves what they've done" (i.e. "inspect their poo"). In a novel that obliquely but consistently deals with history and coming to terms with it -- and specifically the German experience of it -- the graphic symbolism is, of course, more than just apt.
       The narrator travels around Berlin a great deal, following loose directions; he's happy enough to be led around, open to whatever places and experiences he finds. He visits an assortment of notable sites -- the famous department store, KaDeWe; the disused Tempelhof Airport; the Jewish Museum. As he also notes:
You're allowed, in Berlin, to gaze at buildings. It's not an activity that's officially recognized, yet it requires no apology.
       And, as he explains -- suggesting also Chaudhuri's approach in the presentation of this novel:
Rather than being an observer, I tend to enter the lives of things I see. I'm now in that building. Mimicking myself, I look back from there to this window. I become a detail.
       At one point, the narrator notes that: "Names were a key to the person and their world" -- yet not only does he remain unnamed, he notes that: "hardly anyone addresses me by name these days but Jonas", and Chaudhuri eventually has him even forget this most basic identifying marker:
This morning, I don't know my name. Half an hour goes by. It's on the tip of my tongue. I overhear the buzz of other names -- Ōe; Böll Professor. Not mine. It'll come to me. I'm puzzled by the lapse, but more puzzled why I need this information.
       Even seemingly aimless wandering becomes, in its own way, purposeful, as in the remarkable little chapter where:
I keep walking -- in which direction I'm not sure; Kreuzberg ? I've lost my bearings -- not in the city; in its history. The less sure I become of it, the more I know my way.
       Sojourn is an odd narrative -- much of it seemingly straightforward and simple, and yet it is ultimately a very radical experiment in fiction. It is pared to an essence -- but not obviously; the novel rewards re-reading, revealing itself then more clearly to be considerably more in its less-ness. It is -- intentionally -- puzzling, but not irritatingly so; certainly, it is a fascinating text.

- M.A.Orthofer, 9 October 2022

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Links:

Sojourn: Reviews: Amit Chaudhuri: Other books by Amit Chaudhuri under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Indian author Amit Chaudhuri was born in 1962. He graduated from University College, London, and received his doctorate from Oxford.

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© 2022 the complete review

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