A handful of spaghetti : entanglements of space, place and identity in the works of Imraan Coovadia.
Durban born novelist, essayist, and academic, Imraan Coovadia has been described by Jane Rosenthal as “turning into a national treasure as a novelist” (Coovadia 2012a: cover). Despite winning numerous prizes including the Sunday Times Fiction Prize and University of Johannesburg Prize for High Low In-between (2009), and the M-Net Literary Award for The Institute for Taxi Poetry (2012), there has been little extended scholarly focus on his works. This thesis focuses primarily on The Wedding (2001), Green-Eyed Thieves (2006), High Low In-between 2009), and The Institute for Taxi Poetry (2012), with brief remarks, in the conclusion, on the recently-published fifth novel Tales of the Metric System (2014). I argue that Coovadia, while being a South African Indian author, eschews romanticising nostalgia that has come to typify much South African Indian authored fictions. In doing so, he looks beyond archetypal depictions of Indian experience in South Africa, opting for a more global and cosmopolitan approach to his works. My study examines how Coovadia, in his novels, is able to look simultaneously both directly at and beyond the South African cultural milieu, creating fictions that are punctuated by cosmopolitan places and people while retaining local specificity. Using selected theories of space, place, and identity, I suggest that the novels under discussion reflect an era of globalisation, interconnectedness, and hybridity through the construction of cosmopolitan literary cities and the hybrid identities that inhabit them. In doing so, I find that Coovadia writes beyond what Mphahlele has termed the ‘tyranny of place’ (Web2), creating literary spaces that are porous and offer potential for (re)definition, personal growth and fulfilment, and cultural newness. In this way, I argue that his works can be tentatively labelled as post-transitional texts that strive to craft connections rather than to construct self-isolating communities and characters seen in South African texts such as Richard Rive’s Buckingham Palace, District Six (1986), Aziz Hassim’s The Lotus People (2003), and Phyllis Naidoo’s Footprints in Grey Street (2002). Coovadia’s status as a post-transitional author would group him with a younger generation of South African global imaginaries – like Lauren Beukes (Moxyland , Zoo City , The Shining Girls , and Broken Monsters ) and Phaswane Mpe (Welcome to Our Hillbrow ) – that situate South Africa, along with its unstable and protracted political transition, within a complex global network characterised by global exchange of information, items, people, and cultures.