Sara Suleri -- Heartless Bitch?

Anna Sussman '04, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2003

In Meatless Days, Sara Suleri recounts story after story about her family members and growing up in Pakistan. The book is composed of strung-together narratives between which Suleri inserts her own musings and interpretations of the larger implications of her personal stories. Figuring largely in the book are well-developed characters, whose idiosyncratic personalities can be gleaned from Suleri's carefully chosen anecdotes. Two of these characters are her grandmother Dadi and her elder sister Ifat, to whom Suleri frequently refers both as living characters within stories and as dead people, eulogized through the stories.

And somehow it seems apt and heartening that Dadi, being what she was, never suffered the pomposities that enter the most well-meaning of farewells and seeped instead into the nooks and crannies of our forgetfulness. She fell between two stools of grief, which is appropriate, since she was greatest when her life was at its most unreal. Anyway, she was always outside our ken, an anecdotal thing, neither more nor less.

Later, Suleri writes about her sister:

It reminds me that I am glad to have washed my hands of my sister Ifat's death and can think of her now as a house I once rented but which is presently inhabited by people I do not know. I miss her body, of course, and how tall she was, with the skull of a leopard and the manner of a hawk. But that's aesthetic, and aside from it, Ifat is just a repository of anecdotes for me, something I carry around without noticing, like lymph.

With both statements, Suleri implies that there is not a lot of emotional attachment between herself and the people she is describing; that rather, their utility lies in their potential for anecdotes. Do you think this is really how she feels?

What does she gain or lose by saying this? Does this make her an unsympathetic narrator?

How do her descriptions of the characters as dead people relate to how they come across within anecdotes?

Main Screen Pakistan Sara Suleri Meatless Days Leading Questions

Last modified 4 December 2003