Neal Whittle's "Howzaaaaat!": An Inspirational Bildungsroman (Book Review)

By Maya Sanyal

HOWZAAAAAT!
Neal Whittle
Littlerock Publishing

Washington, DC, May 14, 2011 (Washington Bangla Radio) Howzaaaaat! by Neal Whittle (interview) is a brave attempt to emcompass the rich (im)possibilities of "global" existence that is the hallmark of the early 21st century. Re-presenting richness cultural complexities through a palimpset of stories, through generations of memories and fantasies, through the far-too-real menace of racism, intolerance, and violence, and the spirit of sheer survival and undying hope that must imbue current generations of immigrant, post-racial younths, Whittle's story is the story of the future citizens of our schizophrenic, maniacal, wonderously magical world. Irreverently mixing genres (the fantasy, the memoir, the epistolary, the adventure, and the fantastic, to name a few), Whittle's story speaks to readers in multiple voices. Each major character gets a chance to say what s/he sees and believes to be "real," but this only serves to subtly emphasize the fractured nature of reality.

Bound between a picture of the Indian god Ganesh standing on a cricket ball and a picture of the multiple/split personality protagonist, Whittle's story takes us on a dizzying journey from the global North to the global South, from the West to the East; from the oceans to the mountains; from the cold wetness of Britain to the heat and tropics of India. We move in a frenzied manner though moments of time and through entire generations, zipping along from the present to the past to the present to the past to the present. Whittel speaks in tongues, British English and Australian English and Indian English, cheerfully throws in invectives (while insistently disavowing such word usage and pointing to even greater liberties taken) and uses hyperboles that make for the kind of pure drama expected from a young, resistent, angry protagonist (who is forced, for example, on a "horrendous" plane ride).

The multi-artists' eyes pick out details that make fantasy "real." Sentiment and morality sit comfortably next to each other, from beginning to end, conveying the message that humanity and goodness are always rewarded; alongside them are dark reminders of the randomness of existence and of the meaningless waste of youth through sickness and death that no amount of goodness can avert. His story speaks of life-changing moments, near-death experiences, and life-sustaining loves.

Cricket, a sport that still today holds major nation states in its threos finds grand presence the novel, insistently drawing attention to colonial pasts and postcolonial presents in which millions of chidren of immigrants from a teeming variety of skin colors, beliefs, and religions find themselves thrown together, refused safe  boundaries of language and culture and nationality. Products of world-migration, they are forced to negotiate at every turn remnants of political pasts that they have inherited as poisonous, yet fruitful legacies.

A classic bildungsroman, Howzaaaat! is the story of the young global citizen-of-color growing up in a post-yet-not-post-racial world. Like Ganesh the protector, this young 21st century protagonist must be armed with stories and scripts, with life-sustaining passions and a wise and genuine understanding of what really matters in life. Representative of the coming generations, this young person has a moral mandate to stand up for the self and for others, to fight against injustices perpetuated on those who are weaker or broken, and also to walk away from, rather than perpetuate mindless violence. Above all, Whittle exhorts the next generations to believe in the fantastic, the magical, and the impossible, for these are the tools that can nurture life and joy and passion back into their splintered, painful existences, which, in the very fact of being fractured, present possibilities, for only when things are broken can things be created new.