American Candide or Neo-Optimism, by Mahendra Singh, Rosarium Publishing (2016), 200 pages.
American Candide is a 21st-century version of Voltaire’s 18th-century Candide, complete with black-and-white drawings by writer and illustrator Mahendra Singh. While Voltaire documented the effects of the Seven Year War and the Lisbon earthquake on Candide, Dr. Pangloss and Cunegonde, his main protagonists, Singh describes their misadventures in the face of all the ills that beset our century. These ills include suicide bombers, neoliberalism, illegal aliens, the American Dream, global warming, torture, the war on drugs and more. The main setting is Freedonia, although far-away Funkistan and south-of-the-border Costaguana figure prominently in the story line.
This slim novel is a welcome revival of the picaresque novel best represented by Cervantes’ Don Quixote and Voltaire’s Candide. If you’ve read the original Candide, you will be delighted with this modern-day version. If you haven’t, you might be inspired to return to the classics. Mahendra Singh is a highly original satirist with the sharp bite of an Ambrose Bierce. It would be futile to attempt to paraphrase his humour, so I will just go back to tending my little community garden. Although Mahendra Singh might not completely agree:
“War on drugs is hell,” announced Candide to his friend. “Someone’s always trying to rip off your grow-op. They better learn to cultivate their own garden if they know what’s good for them.”
Voltaire’s most famous literary creation, Candide, is now rebooted for 21st-century America.
… From the jungle slums of darkest Africa to the lily-white McMansions of American suburbia, the human condition wreaks havoc upon Candide and his friends as they search for an American Dream being held against its will in an undisclosed location. College-boy sissies will call it a Juvenalian satire upon America’s penchant for mindless optimism and casual racism but Candide says it’s really ‘rage against the rage, Voltaire-dude!’