Sojourn by Amit Chaudhuri - review by Tanjil Rashid

Tanjil Rashid

Adrift in Berlin



Faber & Faber 144pp £14.99

In Alan Bennett’s play The History Boys, history is at one point defined as ‘just one fucking thing after another’. Viscerally we cleave to this classical conception of history as something that unfolds in time and in sequence. But among the speculations of modernity is the disconcerting notion that time has physical properties and exists in space. This might mean that history isn’t one thing after another but something that unfolds all at once.

The pioneer of that theory was, of course, a famous resident of Berlin, and in a sense Berlin, of all the world’s cities, best encapsulates Einstein’s notion of space-time. It is a place where the past is eternally present. That, at least, is how the city appears to the nameless narrator of Amit Chaudhuri’s novel Sojourn, a visiting Indian writer preoccupied – much like the novel’s author – with ‘modernity’s advent in the world’.

Having come to Berlin to take up a university professorship and staying in an apartment in Dahlem, the leafy locale where Einstein happened to live, the narrator is unable to get over the sheer historicity of his new home, brooding on it mostly alone but occasionally with Faqrul, a

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