Intimacy and Estrangement in Meatless Days

Paul Merrylees, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2003

Sara Suleri opens Meatless Days, her memoir of her childhood and youth in Pakistan, with this sentence: "Leaving Pakistan was, of course, tantamount to giving up the company of women." She immediately continues by describing, in her words, "perambulating through the grimness of New Haven" and of the pleasures of her "conversational way" (1). This sets the tone for the entire work: she will render a deeply personal and in many ways intimate account of her life and its settings in prose that is airy and academic and even over-nuanced, making use of words like tantamount and perambulating as she describes the sights and sounds and feelings of her world and of herself as a child in Pakistan. She describes her brother Irfan's project of dove cultivation in the same mode:

He preferred to grow them rather than eat them. There was a time when he had a hundred doves on the roof of the Khurshid Alam Road house, which was quite a feat, considering that they'd had to be kept a strict secret from my father. Papa hated doves, aassociating them with the effete gambling of Deccan princedoms or with Trafalgar Square and his great distate of the English ability to combine rain and pigeon droppings. So Irfan built dovecote after dovecote on our roof, while Pap had no idea of the commerce and exchange beneath which he was living. [33]

Suleri closes this anecdote by describing the chagrin and disbelief of her father when he discovers Irfan's rooftop dove cultivation and moves on to the next thought by declaring that her "parable has to do with nothing less than the imaginative extravagance of food and all the transmogrifications of which it is capable" (34). Throughout the book she continually describes intimate memories and language that is strangely removed from them, as in the phrase "transmogrifications of food", and in describing her father's reaction to her younger brother in terms of "Deccan Princedoms", Trafalgar Square, and commerce and exchage.

Does Suleri's immense erudition and linguistic capacity take away from or add to the immediacy of what she evokes? Does it create distance or does it enhance the images that she communicates to the reader?

Does the style of Suleri's prose convey any particular attitudes toward the subject matter that she describes?

Main Screen Pakistan Sara Suleri Meatless Days Leading Questions

Last modified November 2003