In Meatless Days Sara Suleri brings us into her childhood home in Pakistan. We learn the names of all of the favorite foods and the habits both strange and endearing of family members yet, we only receive this information in quick glimpses. Suleri uses herself, each of her family members, and the telling events of her childhood as small threads which she winds together throughout the story to create a solid tapestry of her young years in Pakistan. Just as when one is weaving a real tapestry, each thread comes into the story, leaves for a time, and then returns and the picture grows ever clearer. Her fleeting anecdotes successfully recreate the wonderments and mysteries of her childhood as well as her angst over the increasing instability of the Pakistani government. As she demonstrates with her poignnant writing, Suleri is tied to her past and to Pakistani culture and to the landscape that colored her childhood. Many memories of events in her home are inextricably linked to historical affairs in Pakistan.
This connection between public and private appears when she writes about her father and grandmother's relationship while her grandmother is recovering from serious burns.
After her immolation, Dadi's diet underwent some curious changes. At first her consciousness teetered too much for her to pray, but then as she grew stronger it took us a while to notice what was missing: she had forgotten prayer. It left her as firmly as tobacco can leave the lives of only the most passionate smokers, and I don't know if she ever prayed again. At about this time, however, with the heavy-handed inevitability that characterized his relation to his mother, my father took to prayer.
Suleri goes on to say of this strange turn in her father:
In an unspoken way, though, I think we dimly knew we were about to witness Islam's departure from the land of Pakistan. The men would take it to the streets and make it vociferate, but the great romance between religion and the populace, the embrace that engendered Pakistan, was done. So Papa prayed, with the desperate ardor of a lover trying to converse life back into a finished love.
Instead of marveling at the love for his estranged mother and religion that her father found upon his mother's injury, Suleri recounts that that historic moment in her home alerted her and her sisters to the shifting nature of religion in Pakistan.
A similar meshing of home and country appears when Suleri writes about the death of her grandmother:
I saw my mother's grave and then came back to America, hardly noticing when, six months later, my father called from London and mentioned Dadi was now dead. It happened in the same week that Bhutto finally was hanged, and our imaginations were consumed by that public and historical dying. Pakistan made rapid provisions not to talk about the thing that had been done, and somehow, accidentally, Dadi must have been mislaid into that larger decision, because she too ceased being a mentioned thing. My father tried to get back in time for the funeral, but he was so busy talking Bhutto-talk in England that he missed his flight and thus did not return.
Although she writes pages and pages about her grandmother, most of what is mentioned of her death is that it happened in the same week that Bhutto was killed. In her mind the change in her family and the change in Pakistan can hardly be separated.
Suleri gives us many brief glimpses into certain events from her life and in her country. Is her "weaving" patter effective or does it create holes in her story? How does the reader feel upon waiting to read Suleri's reaction to her father's praying or her grandmother's death and instead receiving an update on Pakistan?
Except for a handful of mentions of being embarrassed as a child or ashamed Suleri seldom writes about her personal emotions in situations. Why does she do this? What impression of Suleri does the reader perceive?
It could easily be argued that Dadi is a heroine of sorts in "Excellent Things in Women." Suleri quotes her grandmother's wise remarks and admires from a distance her strength. Yet, toward the end of the chapter Dadi is shunned from the family's daily life and dies alone. Suleri admires her grandmother but does not further explain the distancing of Dadi from the family. Why does she do this? It is clear that Dadi is meant to be viewed as one of the "excellent women," yet many of her hardships and abandonment are written about. What is Suleri attempting to tell us?
Last modified December 2003