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Aamer Hussein: A Poet of Fiction

  • Published at 06:40 pm November 11th, 2017
  • Last updated at 11:13 am November 12th, 2017
Aamer Hussein: A Poet of Fiction
Aamer Hussein’s recent book, Love and its Seasons, is a slim, luminous  collection of almost iridescent stories. Apart from its literary beauty, it is also a visual treat: Each deceptively simple, yet finely wrought tale is augmented by an image, giving the reader the sense of flipping through a personal journal with butterfly wings and dried flowers pressed between the pages. The stories, touching on the many faces of love, friendship, loneliness and regret, are recalled with emotional restraint in the writer’s characteristic uncluttered prose, as if written by an ascetic of language. Yet they are ever tinged with the magic and mysticism of fairy tales, legends and folklore. But the most resonant part of this collection is the leitmotif of music running through the stories.  Before I go more deeply into that, I would mention that even in his previously acclaimed collections of stories, including this present one, I always feel that Aamer the poet is always present, pouring into the crafting of his tales the dimension of poetry which is linked to music, Not surprisingly, his short-stories, narrated with artful simplicity, are not just prose-poems in their effect: One can hear in his storytelling, the clarity of pure musical notes, the pauses and gaps of silence, and the cadences of carefully articulated phrases. Among the eight stories in this anthology, music appears in many forms. My favourite is the "Lady of the Lotus," which seems to me to be a metaphor for the whole book. It’s told through the cryptic entries in his mother’s songbook, a diary with "a sketch or a poem printed on each page," in which she used to "write the words of the classical songs she is learning. Her handwriting intertwined with the printed words and pictures on the page." Aamer’s terse, perfectly pitched fiction is like a series of entries in a journal intertwined with images and the remembered or existing music in his life and in the lives of his characters (who may or may not be extensions of himself). In "Lake" a lute becomes a symbol for human connection; in the "Swan’s Wife" the swan’s cry is a poignant, fearful music; in "Name" Majnoon chants his beloved’s name towards mystical union; in "The Hermitage" a monk is reprimanded for singing hymns too well, "as if the singer, not the song, was of primary importance"; in "The Man who Stood Still," a layered, delightfully enigmatic, Borges-like story, the magical power of music is hinted at the end. "Three Tales from Rumi" is a work of translation that seem to be here as the three-tier structure of a classical Indian raga, set in the season of love. The title story, about love and loss, was the one in which I could actually hear the music referred to. The protagonist, Umair, loves listening to music, and often performs French songs at recitals. Long after the story ended, I could hear the strains of "Autumn Leaves," or the songs of the Italian diva Mina, lifting off the pages. In this collection, the aural, the verbal, the visual, all collude to form an experience that is not just a reading, but a form of listening. As if we were an ancient audience sitting before a storyteller with a lute. A narrator of timeless tales in a modern, musical context, Aamer Hussein shows us how fiction is neither about the song, nor the singer, but about the divine act of singing.
Neeman Sobhan is a poet, fiction writer and columnist.
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