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These three critical essays on Ian Bedford's fourth novel, The Last Candles of the Night, were presented at a literary event on memory in fiction at Gleebooks, Sydney, on 19 June 2014, introduced by the publisher.

Introduction

by Dr Linda Nix, publisher and editor at Lacuna Publishing.

The Last Candles of the Night is a book with several themes and many layers. It deals with:

  • displacement and belonging,
  • nationhood and ‘stake’ – that is, to have a stake in something
  • revolution and activism.

It draws parallels and contrasts between two nations undergoing cultural and political change: Hyderabad in 1948 and Australia in 2001. It is also a love story.

Read more: Introduction

Politics and remembering history

by Associate Professor Kalpana Ram, anthropologist and Director of the India Research Centre at Macquarie University. Her most recent book, Fertile Disorder: Spirit Possession and its Provocation of Modernity, explores subordinated practices among poor women in Tamil Nadu, India.

Ian Bedford's book title The Last Candles of the Night quotes from the first line of a couplet written in the language Urdu – which, when I was a child, I assumed was the language of Muslims everywhere, but it is in fact a uniquely Indian synthesis of Persian, Arabic, the colloquial Hindustani of the time, as well as some south Indian languages. The couplet goes:

Hamen khabr hai ki ham hain chirage e aakir e shab

Read more: Politics and remembering history

Fragmented and invented memory

by Professor John Sutton, Deputy Director, Department of Cognitive Science, Macquarie University. His latest research includes studies on autobiographical and collective memory and shared memory among older couples, and he has published widely on memory and cognition in literature.

Ian Bedford’s wonderful novel The Last Candles of the Night is ‘the tale of a recall’. It creates an extraordinary, troubled ecology of memory. Alongside Hyderabad and the Nizam's Dominions in the late 1940s, it inhabits and breathes uneasy life into this house in Gibbes Street, Rockdale, with its oddly skewed floor plan and its dark internal room haunted only by pre-War cricket on the radio. As abrupt as some moments of crisis which Philip and his friends Anand and Ragini face in the upheavals of 1948 is a dire and furious obligatory scene on the Princes Highway in 2001 when Philip is dumped at the kerb and must wander, stunned, with his grandson Jim up to Kogarah Oval.

Read more: Fragmented and invented memory

Political engagement and distant memories

by Professor Ross Poole, lecturer in philosophy and political theory at the New School for Social Research, New York.*

The narrator for much of Ian Bedford's story The Last Candles of the Night is Philip, Philip Chalk. His surname tells us something. For most of his life Philip has been a school teacher, committed and professional, slightly old-fashioned, and happier with a blackboard than a white board, let alone with a computer screen and IT. We meet Philip in 2001. He is 76, and has just returned to Sydney after working for over fifty years in India, with only occasional visits to Australia. He is living in Kogarah, in a house he grew up in but which now belongs to his long estranged though tolerant wife, Jenny.

The house is full of memories of his childhood, and Philip often indulges himself with these. But the task he gives himself is the search for much more disturbing memories.

Read more: Political engagement and distant memories