All About H. Hatterr and Hali, Known Editions
The most recent publications of G.V. Desani's two books are:
This page lists the editions of G.V. Desani's two major works
in roughly chronological order and includes
- All About H. Hatterr, The New
York Review of Books, 2007.
- Hali and Collected Stories, McPherson & Company,1991.
a sampling of comments that
attended the publication. For front and back covers of all the
editions please see the Book Covers page.
G.V. Desani's first book, All About Mr. Hatterr, is not the
easiest book to assess, but there is no need to offer any inducement.
The subtle and vigorous phrasing alone, punctuated with wit, fantasy,
allusion and invention, places it in a class by itself.
Astonished by the book's uniqueness, the days' foremost men of letters were not stingy with their praise:
Aldor Press, London, 1948
"... Certainly a remarkable book. In all my experience, I have not met
anything quite like it. It is amazing that anyone should be able to
sustain a piece of work in this style and tempo at such length."
- C.E.M. Joad :
"... an original and remarkable book. It starts well and continues at
the same level ... to my surprise ... the gusto, tempo and style all
being maintained until the end."
- Edmund Blunden :
"... Something remarkable here by this most curious and resourceful
among writers. I can't think anybody who pays attention will miss that."
- Saul Bellow : "I didn't read many books while writing Augie. One I did read and love was All About H. Hatterr.... So, what about All About? I hate to be siding with T.S. Eliot... but what can you do?
Saturn Press, London, 1948
With the publication of Hatterr in 1948, G.V. Desani burst on the literary scene. The book was a succes d'estime on a prodigious scale, breaking all literary records for a book published that year.
Desani was compared to Runyon (Manchester Guardian), Sterne (The Spectator), "something between Joyce, Sterne, and Mark Twain," (The Tribune),
and his book described by C.E.M. Joad as "Joyce and Miller with a
difference — the difference being due to a dash of Munchausen and the
Described as the "... playboy of the English language." (Harold Brighouse in the Manchester Guardian) and, "... the Danny Kaye of literature." (March,
Bombay), Desani entertained and amazed the literati of post-war Britain
with a book in which, "English speech is laid open as if with a carving
knife." (Bruce Bain). Hatterr, wrote Bain, is, "narrated in an
astonishing farrago of language — puns, slang, pidgin, stage rhetoric,
mock-Tagore. A literary hellzapoppin."
Saturn Press, London, 1950
In the Foreword to the first edition of Hali, T.S. Eliot wrote, "I consider Mr. Desani's Hali a striking and unusual piece of work. It is a completely different sort of thing from his Hatterr, and often the imagery is terrifyingly effective. It is, of course, as poetry that I take Hali ... Hali
is not likely to appeal quickly to the taste of many readers and yet,
in general, I find myself in agreement with what Mr. Forster says."
E.M. Forster, also in the Foreword, wrote, "I have no inner Knowledge of poetry, and so am diffident of my judgments on it, but Hali
does strike me as genuine, personal, and passionate. I get a view
through it, though I should find difficulty in describing what I see. It
seems to treat life as if life were what death might be — perhaps that
is the method in its wild pilgrimage, and why it keeps evoking heights
above the 'Summit-City' of normal achievement. It depends upon a private
mythology — a dangerous device. Yet it succeeds in being emotionally
intelligible and in creating overtones."
A version of Hali was staged at the Watergate Theatre
(London) in 1950, followed by a performance in India. A revised version
was broadcast by All India Radio in 1952. A third revised edition was
published by The Times of India's Illustrated Weekly of India.
It was followed by a defective edition in India and two with ISBN
numbers registered in the USA. These editions were unauthorized. The
author, then, withdrew the book for further revision.
Farrar, Straus & Young, 1951
From the front flap: "It is seldom that a publisher has a chance to present a book like All About H. Hatterr. In England, Mr. Desani's book has already entered the literary scene as a succes d'estime on a prodigious scale."
From the dust jacket back panel: "G.V. Desani ... is an Indian journalist and broadcaster, formerly a correspondent for The Times of India, Reuters and the Associated press.... He has written two other works, Hali, a long poem, and Gandhi, a biography."
Many reviews appeared. One available online appeared in Time Magazine under the title "Where Kipling Left Off", unattributed:
"[Desani's novel] is an extended verbal jag that has already set London highbrows searching vainly for similes. ... All About H. Hatterr takes up where Kipling left off. But Kipling would hardly know the old locale when Desani gets through with it."
The Illustrated Weekly of India
Since the publication of All About H. Hatterr, there has been considerable speculation about Desani's highly complex literary personality. Hali, Desani's second book, is a play, and is completely different from his Hatterr. It is a work of great force and beauty, with music of its own. Hali
is the story of the predicament of man, and of his vision of good and
evil. Hali is his name, but he is more than Hali; he is the shadow of
man in extremity.
Hali reveals G.V. Desani as altogether a new personality, an
artist of high integrity and poetic insight, with the gift of a strange
yet ascetic eloquence. Prema Nandakumara, in an entry about Desani in
the Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature, wrote, "...Hali... projects the inner drama of a 'passion' ... Hali's life — like everybody's — is a daily dialog with Death...."
Writer's Workshop, Calcutta, 1967
The Writer's Workshop, founded in 1958 by a group of Indian writers
dedicated to the diffusion of creative writing in the English language,
published Hali in 1967.
When Hali first appeared in England in 1950, a chorus of distinguished praise greeted it.
- "Special kind of originality. Passion, and tenderness, and the apocalyptic diction is quite extraordinary." — Manchester Guardian
- "Curious and haunting poem." — The Times Literary Supplement
- "Hali is as near a work of genius as one can judge. We share Hali's
conception of creation, of good, of evil; the cataclysmic experience of
his Rooh: and we experience a great deal more we are not sure of.... It
has a transcendental quality." — The Librarian
- "The reader will find himself lifted out of the recognized
relationships of life in this world, of man with man, and with nature.
Rooh — this figure remains abstract, in spite of the terrible account of
her betrayal in this world of wars and lusts. She is a sort of
Pascalian image, expressing love sublimated, universalized in time and
space.... The whole experience might have been so formless. Mr. Desani
has burned his way through that vagueness by sheer strength of spirit." —
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York, 1970
Anthony Burgess, in his introduction to this reissue of All About H. Hatterr,
points out that G.V. Desani's novel, which first appeared in 1948,
"...went underground and became a coterie pleasure," and is now,
"confirmed after twenty years in the rank of modern classic." He goes on
to describe the hero as, "...a grotesque autodidact who has built up a
remarkable vocabulary with the aid of an English dictionary and a French
and Latin primer. His vernacular sounds like Higher Babu.... I am
honored and delighted to introduce a wonderfully heartening book to a
new generation of readers."
On the reissue of Hatterr Charles M. Hagen in the Harvard Crimson
wrote, "The glory of the book is its language ... If (Desani) hadn't
stopped writing, he might have given us some masterful examples of a
difficult genre, the comic novel. Whether or not he ever writes again,
though, Hatterr will guarantee him a loyal group of readers."
The Bodley Head, London, 1970
"The Story of English", a nine-part PBS television series co-produced
by McNeil-Lehler Productions and the BBC, included remarks by Prof. P.
Lal (University of Calcutta) citing Anthony Burgess on G.V. Desani's All About H. Hatterr, " ... confirmed in the rank of a modern classic."
In his introduction to the 1970 edition, Burgess had written about
Desani the speaker, " ... Desani came to England, in fact, to
demonstrate in live speech the vitality of the English rhetorical
tradition brilliant in Burke and Macaulay, decadent in Churchill, now
dead.... But it is the language that makes the book, a sort of creative
chaos that grumbles at the restraining banks. It is what may be termed
Whole Language, in which philosophical terms, the colloquialisms of
Calcutta and London, Shakespearean archaisms, bazaar whinings, quack
spiels, references to the Hindu pantheon, the jargon of Indian
litigation, and shrill babu irritability seethe together. It is not pure
English; it is, like the English of Shakespeare, Joyce and Kipling,
On the reissue of Hatterr in the U.K. Patrick Anderson writing for The Spectator said, "H. Hatterr has his own splendid way with the lingo. To tread for a
moment (but falteringly) in the stamp and dance of his style (strictly
OHMS, all jets propelling, piste, schuss and pop goes the weevil) I
would say that the velocity of his vocabulary rattled the gee-gee
counter, that his phrases burgeoned like the Bengal rose, and that he
came near to out-Babu-ing those fellow bamboozlers, Sterne and Joyce. ... The greatest achievement of this richly comic and profoundly humane
work is its ability to combine pathos of this sort with picaresque
adventure and linguistic extravagance.
Lancer Books, New York, 1972
On the occasion of the Lancer edition of Hatterr, Philip Toynbee wrote, "... a comic masterpiece ... an astonishing novel ... a marvelous book."
- Newsweek called it, "... a mischievous mulligatawny that
reads like a collaboration between Mrs. Malaprop and Groucho Marx.... At
the end you may not quite know where you've been, but you understand
you've had a helluva trip".
- Time said, "... a bizarre and delightful voice ... to paraphrase would be travesty."
- And The San Francisco Chronicle commented, "One doesn't
explain a work like this, or attempt to describe it. You simply let the
language flow like the lyrics of a Calypso song, or a subdued show of
The Lancer edition of Hatterr included an addition to the Preface by the author:
Indian middle-man (to Author): Sir, if you do not identify your composition a novel, how then do we itemize it? Sir, the rank and file is entitled to know.
Author (to Indian middle-man): Sir, I identify it a gesture. Sir, the rank and file is entitled to know.
Indian middle-man (to Author): Sir, there is no immediate
demand for gestures. There is immediate demand for novels. Sir, we are
literary agents, not free agents.
Author (to Indian middle-man): Sir, I identify it a novel. Sir, itemize it accordingly.
Penguin Modern Classics, Penguin Books, London, 1972
All About H. Hatterr first appeared in 1948 and was greeted
with rare enthusiasm by T.S. Eliot and many other distinguished critics.
It then, inexplicably, went underground to emerge twenty years later as
a modern classic that defies classification. In a long
critique-postscript, published for the first time in this edition, H.
Hatterr's lawyer comments on the "autobiographical" with a gusto and
brio fully worthy of his client. The entire 'holus-bolus' richly merits a
place on the same shelf as Hyman Kaplan, Mr. Pooter, and the Good
Penguin Books, in the series King Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1982
Reissued after twenty years in 1970, All About H. Hatterr,
with an introduction by Anthony Burgess, and approximately 1,600
alterations and additions and a new chapter in the Lancer Books edition
and Penguin Modern Classics and King Penguin editions has made
publishing history. Not counting comment from Philippines, Canada and
New Zealand, the book has earned 80 reviews in the States, Britain,
India, and Australia.
- Philip Toynbee says of its author, "... He stands astride the two
cultures, the Eastern and the Western, belonging to neither and
therefore able to look at both with the incredulous eye of the
- And C.P. Snow wrote, "Mr. Desani is a writer of great originality, who is making a contribution ... all his own."
- In a signed review in Time, Christopher Porterfield spoke of All About H. Hatterr as " ... one of the genuine literary rarities, the lost-and-found masterpiece."
Gulab Vazirani for Arnold-Heinemann Publishers, Delhi, 1985
D.J. Enright in his A Mania for Sentences says of the language in Hatterr,
"G.V. Desani is not reproducing so much as inventing or creating,
basing himself on "nature' but improving it quite distinctly. His hero,
H. Hatterr, is 'biologically, fifty-fifty of the species', his father 'a
European, Christian-by-faith merchant merman', his mother 'an Oriental,
a Malay Peninsula-resident lady', non-Christian, presumably of Indian
extraction. His ancestry enriches H. Hatterr — just as being Jewish as
well as Irish enriches Leopold Bloom — for it makes him heir to all the
sages, or to many of them. His range of reference, both verbal and
philosophical, is impressively wide, and he can quite feasibly mix Babu
English with the vernacular of the old British Clubs, while also, as a
not uncultivated feller, drawing on diverse languages and literatures
from the continent of Europe and You Essay."
Penguin Books India Ltd., New Delhi, 1998
First published almost forty years ago, All About H. Hatterr is one of the most singular and celebrated of contemporary novels in the English language.
This comic 'autobiographical' of a young, ne'er-do-well Anglo-Indian's quest for enlightenment among seven sages is conveyed in a fantastically conceived style — an anti-Candid by way of Lewis Carroll and Groucho Marx.
With this definitive edition, All About H. Hatterr resumes ts rightful place as the most inventive intersection of Western and Eastern cultures.
McPherson & Company, New York, 1986
Christopher Porterfield in his Time review of Hatterr entitled "Towering Babel": "Make no mistake, All About H. Hatterr
is a philosophical novel that deals, however obliquely, with such
eternal conundrums as love, free will, and appearance and reality. Its
protagonist formulates no doctrines. But without ever quite losing his
innocence, he does arrive at a visionary acceptance of all mortal
matters as so much moonlight on the Ganges."
Michael Dirda, writer and editor forBook World, also has noted the serious aspects of Hatterr,
"In fact, Desani's book, for all its good humor and linguistic zing,
repeatedly builds toward authentic speculations about religion, death,
the after-life and other transcendental matters. If not quite a divine
comedy, All About H. Hatterr is certainly a spiritual one.
Said Philip Toynbee, "A comic masterpiece ... Desani's verbal
invention is indefatigable, his linguistic sources inexhaustible." — The Observer
Now, for a mere $10, you can marvel at one of the great verbal extravaganzas in the English (more or less) language." — The Nation
A rewarding feast of fish and fowl, fiction and philosophy, hilarity and hope. — The New York Times
Desani is undoubtedly a master in the creative use of English — puns,
parodies, colloquialisms — and an accomplished artist in the invention
of a new language. — World Literature Today
Benjamin Slade ("beoram"), contributed "All About Who?, or S. Rushdie's Secret Guru" to dooyoo.co.uk web site.
Also see Recovered Classics: All About H. Hatterr, on the McPherson and Co. site.
Hali and Collected Stories
McPherson & Company, New York, 1991
After Four Decades a New Book by G.V. Desani
Hali and Collected Stories
The present McPherson and Co., the fourth revised and considerably enlarged definitive edition, is published for the first time.
The Collected Stories, which accompany it, as selected by the author, have not been offered as a collection before.
The following comments are selected from reviews of the McPherson and Co. edition:
G.V. Desani's Hali (the first of these strange tales and stories) was published in England five years after his comic masterpiece, All About H. Hatterr.
In spite of its fewer than 7,000 words, Hali attracted the most discerning readers and critics:
- "...Audacious and original speculation about human destiny...." — The Truth
- "...It is a delight to see the English language used with such delicacy and beauty...." — Beverly Baxter, Editor, The Daily Express
- "...With the publication of All About H. Hatterr, a new star swam into our ken. I have never seen in any modern work so close a resemblance with the great Sanskrit epics as in Hali...." — Sir Frank Brown, The Times editorial staff
- "...A real pleasure to acknowledge (Desani's) original
contributions to literature. I have heard him described as a modern
Rabelais, Sterne, and Mark Twain. Mr. Desani has certainly served to
enliven for me the tedium of long sittings in the House of Commons...." —
R.A. Butler, President, Royal Society of Literature
- "...Two books could hardly be more different. But I recognize the beauty of Hali...." — Sir David Ross, President, British Academy
- "...It is clear that the author has it in him to become the founder
of a new school of spoken verse...." — John Coatman, North Regional
Controller, the BBC
- "...A special kind of beauty, whose meaning unfolds with each fresh reading...." — Baldun Dhingra, Mass Communications, UNESCO
- "...I have read Hali with great admiration. It has
literary qualities of a very high order, instinct with true poetic
spirit. It is astonishing that the two books should be by the same
author. In his second book Desani has left the first so far behind. At
the same time, he possesses so much humor, gusto, such a keen sense of
fun, and writes with such originality and ease, that if Desani should
turn his genius in that direction, he might achieve great things as a
writer of comedy...." — Viscount Samuel, President, Royal Institute of
- "Between these two books there is a dual reaction of Desani to our
age. I can understand this apparent divergence of satire and
spirituality are two arms of one being and equally his poetic insight
and comic burlesque of mundane things derive from his inner realization
of transcendental values." — Lord Sorensen
- "...We are conscious of being in the presence of a writer more than
commonly sensitive to the mystery of human existence...." —
- "...A writer of great originality who is making a contribution — neither English nor Indian — but all his own...." — C.P. Snow
- "A work of compelling beauty — a book to dwell with and ponder over. The fact that it is by the author of All About H. Hatterr
is a proof certainly of his imaginative powers and his importance." —
Geoffrey Whitworth, Governor, Stratford Memorial Theatre
- "...An incalculable figure. I can hardly believe that the same hand wrote All About H. Hatterr and Hali.
Yet both bear the stamp of that originality of thought and expression,
that refusal to be tied down to conventional forms where these prove
inadequate vehicles of thought and feeling which together make up
something very like genius.... A craftsman who is experimenting boldly
and often successfully to do something that has never been done before —
even by James Joyce...." — L.F. Rushbrook Williams, Fellow, All Souls',
Oxford; Director, Bureau of Information
- "...Symbolizes the mystery of human existence...." — The Western Mail
- "It's magic." — The Queen
- "...Special kind of originality, passion and tenderness, and the
apocalyptic diction is quite extraordinary...." — _The Guardian_
- "...An allegory which seems to spring from direct personal
experience of religious vision.... A defiant reaffirmation of the
principle of Love..." — The Tribune
- "...Curious and haunting poem...." — The Times Literary Supplement
- "...Its depth of feeling, hidden it may be in a symbolism of which
the author is a far greater master than his reader can ever hope to be.
But even a single reading will leave the reader with something of the
treasure. It is poetry indeed...." — The Eastern World
- "...Grandiloquent strains of mysticism, and power...." — The Liverpool Daily Post
- "...A dream world, a world of seas, of flowers. The imagery is powerful and the language perfect...." — The Manchester Evening Chronicle.
- "...In Hali, poetry reaches a new height..." — The Forum
- "...Starkly beautiful imagery..." — The Onlooker
- "...A spiritually triumphant journey through paradox, anguish, rebellion to complete renunciation...." — The Dublin Magazine
- "...A passion play with an ageless and universal reference..." — The Herald.
- "...Very rarely when so many values are in the melting pot, can a critic (let alone dare) call a new work a work of genius. Hali is as near a work of genius as one can judge.... It has a transcendental quality..." — The Librarian.
- "...Rooh, this figure remains abstract in spite of the terrible
account of her betrayal. She is a sort of Pascalian image, expressing
love sublimated and universalized. But here is a remarkable quality of
the poem — that we see this Love, not as an abstraction, but a warm,
endearing personality, enduring in the realm of death and enriching it
with promises and hopes more concrete than anything in our material
world. How the author does this it is impossible to say." — The Listener, the Journal of the B.B.C.
Recently more commentary on the short stories in Hali and Collected Stories have been located. Here are some examples:
- "Hali is not anti-myth. It is, rather, a reshaping of
traditional myth that offers new perspectives while preserving the old
taxonomies. In Desani's corpus, the works seek to reaffirm and
consolidate rather than question and destabilize. Ramanujam makes the
insightful observation that, 'Desani's distinction is not that he is the
creator of Hali, but that the writing of it transformed the writer'." — Chelva Kanaganayakam in Counterrealism and Indo-Anglian Fiction, Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2005.
- "A dark fable of cultural circulation," from a review of Since a Nation Must Export, Smithers!, one of the short stories in Hali...., Andrew Goldstone, Export Duties, Arcade Literary Journal (digital), Stanford University, 2011.
- "(Desani) is one of Indo-Anglian literature's most idiosyncratic figures.... Among Desani's more intriguing creations (in Hali...) are the lama reborn as a chicken, the she-demon who keeps demanding "kya chahte ho (what do you want)?" of the man who has summoned her, the ganwaar humiliated by the town barber. But the author's elliptical style make none truly memorable ... On the whole, this volume is only for true believers," Shashi Tharoor, "Faint Echoes", India Today (intoday.in), June 20, 2013.
- "Set in India (the short stories) confirm (Desani) as a master of subtle metaphysical comedies, a fabulist, fantasist, moralist and keen satirist of life's follies, absurdities and ego trips," Publishers Weekly, Nov. 4, 1991.
All About H. Hatterr
The New York Review of Books, New York, 2007.
The publisher introduced the new edition with the comment, "Wildly funny and wonderfully bizarre, All About H. Hatterr is one of the most perfectly eccentric and strangely absorbing works modern English has produced." In a blog commentary entitled "Not Quite All About All About H. Hatterr the writer added, "I would say that Hatterr
is one of the books we've had the most requests to republish. And it's
always a pleasure to be able to respond to such requests with a simple,
Zukfikar Ghose, column for Dawn (dawn.com), The Growth of Orwell's 'Strange Phenomenon', Aug. 31, 2014, "A novel with any pretension to seriousness is written in a language that
has its own peculiar ring that keeps resonating after its surface
rendering of reality has been transmitted, so that the communicated
cognition exceeds what is literally understood and the substance of the
story conveys an intimation of a deeper knowledge. G. V. Desani’s All About H. Hatterr is one such novel. (It) enjoyed a temporary success and
then fell into neglect from which it has not been rescued by attempts to
reissue it, including an edition with a very fine Introduction by
Anthony Burgess, who states that “it is the language that makes the
book, a sort of creative chaos” and speculates whether its neglect was
not due to “the difficulty of classifying the book”. Perhaps that’s a
polite way of saying that Desani (1909-2000), a Kenyan-born Indian,
could hardly be expected to write an original novel using English as it
had never been used before. But that is exactly what Desani did. If we
read it today without regard to the author’s nationality (in this
supposedly enlightened age with its boastful espousal of diversity), (Hatterr) would be considered one of the original masterpieces
of English literature produced during the period that includes Virginia
Woolf, Joyce, Beckett and Flann O’Brien."
Ben Ehrenreich, reviewing for The Los Angeles Times, One Serious Feller (2007), "Hatterr is more readable by miles than (James Joyce's) Finnegans Wake, and a lot more fun."
Hua Hsu for The New York Sun under the title Passage From India:
"Few novels open with warnings, and courageous is the writer who opens
with a warning about how the 300 pages to follow never cohere into a
novel, but mingle instead at the rank of a "gesture." ... It is a
perfect way to enter Desani's profoundly self-aware world, one in which
the language indeed gestures at its own playful impurity, its own lack
of regard for etiquette."
Robert Shuster, The Village Voice: "Imagine a schnockered
Nabokov impersonating The Simpsons' Apu while reeling off tales of an
Anglo-Indian Don Quixote, and you get some sense of Desani's wacko
masterwork — a hilarious mix of slapstick misadventure and philosophic
vaudeville, voiced in a manic Hindu-accented English so jagged and dense
it makes you dizzy."
Guttersnipe Das' blogspot: "It was with great delight that I discovered that NYRB classics (has reissued) G.V. Desani's All About H. Hatterr.
This book is near the top of my list of books that must not be allowed
to disappear. ... For me (it) encapsulates the crazed gorgeous
inventiveness of Indian English.... I am very grateful that other, more
powerful, people are concerned about it as well."
Dan Zigmond, reviewing for The San Francisco Chronicle,
"Desani's crazed epic became an ideal selection for the New York Review
of Books Classics series. Founded in 1999 to rescue from oblivion what
its editor Edwin Frank describes as "good books, books it was hard to
believe wouldn't have some sort of serious solid readership," this
astonishing collection recently published its 200th volume and shows no
signs of slowing down."
Nilanjana S Roy, The Return of H. Hatterr, The Business-Standard, India: "Those who haven't come across Hatterr
know of it in the same way one hears about a distant, eccentric,
slightly disreputable but unstoppable family relative. ... Perhaps as
the New York Review of Books edition of Hatterr comes out, it
might set off a trend in favour of resuscitating lost classics. Desani
was skeptical of happy endings, but he did believe in gestures,
Richard Oram, Throwback Thursday – 1948's All About H. Hatterr, reviewing for Cultural Compass, Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin: "The ... Center recently acquired the papers of the late G.V. Desani.... Included is the original manuscripts of his most important work, the eccentric novel All About H. Hatterr."
All About H. Hatterr, Wikipedia: "As far back as in 1951," Desani later wrote, "I said H. Hatterr was a
portrait of a man, the common vulgar species, found everywhere, both in
the East and in the West."