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Autofiction and Amit Chaudhuri

  • Published at 03:58 pm July 13th, 2019
Amit Chaudhuri
Photo credit: Dhaka Tribune

Feature

In his My Struggle, published between 2009 and 2011 in six volumes, Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard has told the life story of a 40-year old writer, from childhood to adulthood. While writing the last volume of this epic autobiographical series, The End, in which the protagonist has the same name as his, Knausgaard knew that it had already become a great sensation—a topic surfacing in talk shows, newspapers and journals. But his focus was somewhere else. He writes: “I’ve had no interest in that discourse and have kept out of it as much as possible, there’s nothing there for me. Everything is here, in what I am doing now. But what is that, exactly?” 

Decades before My Struggle, in 1993, internationally acclaimed author Amit Chaudhuri’s second novel Afternoon Raag was published as an autobiographical novel. James Wood, who has written an introduction to the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of the book, has, in his article published on Scroll.in, praised it as “a beguiling mixture of documentary fidelity, fictive torque, and personal memoir.”   

To numerous literary critics, these novels, together with Rachel Cusk’s Aftermath (2012), Olivia Laing’s novel Crudo (2018), Jerry Pinto’s Em and the Big Hoom (2012) and Yashodhara Lal’s How I Became a Farmer’s Wife (2018), belong to a genre called autofiction that blurs the boundaries between autobiography and fiction. Autofiction has become a trend for fiction writers in the 21st century.  

Alex Clark in her article “Drawn from life: why have novelists stopped making things up?” published in The Guardian, defines “autofiction” as a kind of “fictionalised autobiography that does away with traditional elements of the novel such as plot and character development.” They are written in first-person narrative and most protagonists have the same name as the author.    

Like an autofiction, James Wood opines, the story of Afternoon Raag “is grounded in Chaudhuri’s own experiences as a graduate student at Oxford in the 1980s, a young man negotiating a modus vivendi between two homes, an inherited one and an adopted one.”     

In his latest novel Friend of My Youth, another book that can be called an autofiction, Amit Chaudhuri, through the voice of the narrator, as if, responds to whether his novels are autofiction or not. The narrator of the book, Amit Chaudhuri, while talking about the book he is writing, says, “ ‘The book is a novel,’ he thinks; ‘I’m pretty sure of that. What marks it out as a novel is this: the author and the narrator are not one.” He further explains, “The narrator’s views, thoughts, observations – essentially, the narrator’s life – are his or her own. The narrator might be created by the author, but is a mystery to him. The provenance of his or her remarks and actions is never plain.” Does Amit Chaudhuri, then, refuse to accept that Friend of My Youth and Afternoon Raag are not autofictions?