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Oct 27, 2005



I'm glad you mentioned the butterflies, Max, because I couldn't resist following up on Jugnu's comment (p. 168) that there are three butterflies in Madame Bovery: "the first black, the second yellow, and the third white."

If you look, there are actually four mentions of butterflies in Bovary, and the sequence is white-yellow-black-white.

Ch. 1, p. 9. "Once in the middle of the day, in the open country, just as the sun beat most fiercely against the old plated lanterns, a bared hand passed beneath the small blinds of yellow canvas, and threw out some scraps of paper that scattered in the wind, and farther off lighted like white butterflies on a field of red clover all in bloom."

Ch. 7, p. 2: "Her thoughts, aimless at first, wandered at random, like her greyhound, who ran round and round in the fields, yelping after the yellow butterflies, chasing the shrew-mice, or nibbling the poppies on the edge of a cornfield."

Ch. 8, p. 10: "A gust of wind that blew in at the window ruffled the cloth on the table, and in the square below all the great caps of the peasant women were uplifted by it like the wings of white butterflies fluttering."

Ch. 9, p. 6: "The little pasteboard berries burst, the wire twisted, the gold lace melted; and the shriveled paper corollas, fluttering like black butterflies at the back of the stove, at least flew up the chimney."

See for yourself:

Anyhow, reading Flaubert you can guess who at least one of Aslam's masters would be ...



Hi guys, I've really been enjoying your observations. Sam, I especially appreciated your comparison below with other novels about diaspora and assimilation, though I have not read the novels you mention. And Max, your last paragraph gets at what was perhaps the most astonishing thing for me about this book--that I viewed the conflict between Kaukab and her children with such sympathy for her. Reading your post, I felt it all over again: K's sadness and defensiveness in the face of their assimilation, an emotional response that runs quite counter to my intellectual one. I think this is a real feat and an invaluable reading experience (to nick a phrase from Mr. Green!).

I'm really glad to have this chance for a real conversation about the novel, though I'm late coming into it and shorter-winded than I'd like. I wonder if any of our colleagues who were not so fond of the novel will weigh in? I have to admit I've been madly curious since the voting what the particular objections/misgivings were. If I had to guess, I would say the language, which Max does not go overboard in calling decadent--but most of which I nevertheless soaked up like a sponge. This was another thing that surprised me more than a little about the novel. I normally have a fairly shallow appetite for showy language (I won't fall into the trap of calling it "literary") and prefer an incisive style. But Aslam's heavily ornamented style drew me in right away. In my initial post I tried to get at what was different about it, why it struck me as, in fact, more than just ornament. I'm not sure I convinced anyone, including myself, but I persist in thinking there's a meaningful link between this aspect of the novel's form and its content. What do you think?

Or are we all still too drunk on local triumphs to think about such things? How funny that all of us who so far have wanted to discuss Maps are neighbors.


I thought the prose in Maps beautiful, but I found it hard to sympathize with Kaukab, even though I knew I was supposed to. I just wanted to shake her and say, 'Wake the hell up!'. It was so strange how oblivious she was to the world, and I think her family kept her in that state or certainly never tried to get her out of it. Kaukab and Shamas seemed too archetypal to me. And I just couldn't get past Kaukab's selfishness.


I know what you mean, Megan. Just the same, I don't think it's entirely correct to say that her family does nothing to wake Kaukab up to the world around her. Her daughter Mah-Jabin pretty explicitly confronts her in chapter six, in that amazing scene where they argue about why Mah-Jabin was sent back to Pakistan to marry at age fourteen.

It's such a great scene because (at least to me) it's completely believeable, and because the one who is putatively in the right is also in important ways wrong, unfair, and uninformed, and because the person in the wrong is right in many ways about the workings of the world and the ways in which people are free or not free to do what they think is right.

(If I had more time, I'd write you a shorter sentence.)


You're correct Sam. I suppose what I meant to say was until the present action of the book, no one had done anything to confront Kaukab. It was the boiling point, with all the tension of the trial, that made things come to a head finally. And I too found that scene completely believeable---so much goes unsaid in families until it bursts forth against your will. Mah-Jabin keeps her mother in ignorance in order to keep her relationship with her mother because she knows telling Kaukab the truth could end up alienating her. That's how I saw it. It was so heartbreaking. Accepting Kaukab's jabs about being a bad wife all the meanwhile the husband is a complete lout. I think that's the only time I was able to sympathize with Kaukab, when she realizes that she had gotten the situation wrong.

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