Absinthe Literary Review, Book Reviews Spring 2002
B O O K   R E V I E W

Spring 2004

Streets that smell of dying roses by Prakash Kona

Streets that smell of dying roses
Prakash Kona
Fugue State Press
New York
246 pp. $14.00


(We took our time in reviewing this first novel by Prakash Kona for a couple of reasons. First, I began reading it for review only a week or so prior to the launch of our winter issue, and upon ingesting a modest section of its weird and esoteric meat, I decided that the book was much too complex and worthwhile to hurry through. Then, after completing a full review for our spring issue,  I was greeted by the hideous Blue Screen of Death upon trying to save the review to my laptop. The file disappeared and was unrecoverable. Now, hopefully, the third time will prove the charm. -CAW)


While being pitched as a first novel, Prakash Kona's streets that smell of dying roses more resembles a series of exquisite prose poems. It is in the reader's best interest to view them as such since we automatically grant more leeway to poets than to those who work in prose. Prose summons us to a rigid appreciation at best, and Kona's style requires a relaxed approach if sense is to be made of his work. And though streets that smell of dying roses experiments with or jettisons nearly every element of standard prose, there is much sense at work in its pages. Good sense. Magical sense. Theory positively oozes from every vignette, encouraging the reader to step lively or carefully depending on the author's drumwork. Sentences run on; gender questions, already obscure, become fluid; punctuation adheres to form then disappears, leaving the onlooker wandering in a prose poem daymare that runs a circuitous loop through the dirty, sensuous streets of Hyderabad.

In accompanying literature, Kona professes to believe in “the power of alternate discourses,” and streets clearly utilizes alternative forms. It's should come as no surprise that Kona cut his doctoral teeth on Derrida and Chomsky. This is visionary work.

Like most visionary work, it is not 100% successful (though a percentage in the nineties seems appropriate). Substantial suspension of disbelief is necessary to glean the best of the matter, and now and then certain weaknesses in style make this difficult—most pointedly, the author's over-reliance on weak auxiliaries (is, was, etc.), and an occasional clumsiness in expression. The former problem may or may not be a conscious appeal to experiment, while the latter is addressed though perhaps to no great effect in a semi-apologist note referring to the prose as "sensitive to the effects of English as a colonizer's tongue." The editorial dodging of responsibility in the name of preserving ethnic voice is somewhat understandable in an experimental work of this depth and magnitude, but regardless, these issues do crop up often enough to detract slightly from the book's overall impact—which is momentous and appreciable.

Despite the small blips and the demanding character of the work (which in the end is arguably its greatest asset, though it will drive many readers insane), streets stands as an admirable addition to the debate on semantics and communication in literature. This is the book that many younger authors have tried to write and failed—one that disassembles language, narrative and structure, throwing them all into a molten semantic stream. Understanding, falling into, and melding with the flow of this  stream was one of the more enjoyable literary experiences I've had in recent years. A comparison to Joyce's Ulysses seems apt, both in breadth of experiment and to only a slightly lesser extent, quality. On the strength of this work, Prakash Kona seems poised for greatness. Highly recommended.