Literary biographies, as a genre, has remained popular in the West, covering a wide spectrum, from the purely documentary and factual to the wildly and extravagantly imaginative. The latest in the genre that created a buzz when it came out was The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World by Maya Jasanoff that had as its subject Joseph Conrad, the great writer of Polish origin and stylist of the English novel. Readers had wondered—after more than a dozen biographies that explored Conrad’s life (and its relationship with his works) from all possible angles, and eleven well-curated tomes of his correspondence, what new facts or perspectives Jasanoff could bring to light.
Yet, when the book was finally published, they were dazzled by its brilliance. Jasanoff, a professional historian, drew on insights both from history and literature, to substantially redefine how we see Conrad. Her book compelled many to revisit Conrad as someone who prefigured several important concerns and anxieties of the twentieth century. A new book on Ghalib’s life justifiably raises the same kind of speculations.