This essay describes a trend in contemporary Third World writing characterized by a “realist impulse.” The realist impulse is a transition in representational mode, style, and/or medium that entails a new textual engagement with the contemporary world, evident in gestures such as stories set in the present rather than the past, the trimming of modernist, metaphorical, and metafictional language for a more stripped-down and less ostensibly self-conscious aesthetics, and/or the claiming of a new political urgency in both nonfiction and fictional writing alike. This impulse is evident in a range of new literary and cultural productions since around 2000 in India and across the Third World and marks the contemporary moment by registering the inadequacy of earlier literary trends in deliberate ways. This essay seeks to illuminate the contours of the realist impulse through readings of two contemporary novelists: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria) and Chetan Bhagat (India). Despite coming from different countries and political positions, both authors break open existing paradigms in postcolonial literature and represent a new imagining of the potential relationship between center and periphery outside those paradigms.

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