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An ambitious, poetic but immatured effort
am 27. Dezember 1999
I remember an unusually well-read American friend of mine telling me that this book has been a revealation to him about the qualities of indo-english writers and also the complex and broad cultural spectrum of India the country. That was an year ago in LA. And immediately after that, another chap, a fellow Marquez and Rushdie fan, warned me about the pretentiousness and juvenile linguistic juglaries that are shamelessly repeated throuhout the novel. I guess both of them are right.Her absurdly beautiful language has really brought alive the bucolic beauties of 'God's own country' Kerala. Nature, both pristine and humane,are seamlessly inter-woven around each other. And she has honestly tried to face the major cultural dilemmas of post-colonial India ; what all are to remain 'pure' and untouched and what all are to be sold ? Check out the chapter where she brillaintly describes the trauma of a 'Kathakali' dancer( a traditional folk dance)who exhibits himself in front of the modern world of tourists to earn his leaving. I found it a very potent symbol of India's own problems.Maybe Roy didn't intend it to be so.
When it's expected that the whole world will go ga-ga over all these positive aspects, it's surprising nobody seems to notice the very obvious flaws in this novel. No matter what you say, a novel is about story-telling( from Cerventes to Fuentes, that's the way it has been). And she hasn't yet learnt that. There is no underlying rhythm in the time-travels we encounter all so very often. Even to give your plot a semblance to the incoherent tricks that memory play, you actually have to 'construct' that incoherence. At places, it seemed like a William Burroughs 'book'. And then, the annoying repetition of what another reviewer says as 'Bratspeak'. Also the plethora of words starting with capital letters. Confusing. An extremely superficial reference to Conrad's 'Heart of Drakness'. Disgusting. Other than Ammu and to some extent Chacko, not a single character is well-developed. They lack in dimensions and richness offeelings. Cardboard-persons. The inexplicable emotional links between the dizygotic twins is a very vain attempt to invoke Marquez-like magical atmosphere. Unsuccessful. So, only 3 stars.
And one more thing, if you're not an Indian and you honestly want to have a literary experience of the panorama of progress and anglophilia and terror and communalism and 'settled in abroad' achievers that is the modern India, check out 'The Shadow Lines' by Amitav Ghosh . Forget Roy or Vikram Seth. He is the second best alive Indo-Engligh writer, after Rushdie, obviously. And also try out Rohinton MIstry's 'A Fine Balance'. He is the best Dickens after Charles DIckens.