Although it focuses on the fate of a few powerless individuals, Kiran Desai's extraordinary new novel manages to explore, with intimacy and insight, just about every contemporary international issue: globalization, multiculturalism, economic inequality, fundamentalism and terrorist violence. Despite being set in the mid-1980's, it seems the best kind of post-9/11 novel.
Pankaj Mishra - The New York Times
The writing has a melancholy beauty here, especially in its sensuous evocations of the natural world: "white azaleas in flower, virginal yet provocative like a good underwear trick"; "mountains where monasteries limpet to the sides of rock." Her keen appreciation of contradiction enriches the book, and, if the integrity of her narrative is less than perfect, the integrity of her ideological convictions is absolute.
Donna Rifkind - THe Washington Post
Desai’s second novel is set in the nineteen-eighties in the northeast corner of India, where the borders of several Himalayan states—Bhutan and Sikkim, Nepal and Tibet—meet. At the head of the novel’s teeming cast is Jemubhai Patel, a Cambridge-educated judge who has retired from serving a country he finds “too messy for justice.” He lives in an isolated house with his cook, his orphaned seventeen-year-old granddaughter, and a red setter, whose company Jemubhai prefers to that of human beings. The tranquillity of his existence is contrasted with the life of the cook’s son, working in grimy Manhattan restaurants, and with his granddaughter’s affair with a Nepali tutor involved in an insurgency that irrevocably alters Jemubhai’s life. Briskly paced and sumptuously written, the novel ponders questions of nationhood, modernity, and class, in ways both moving and revelatory.
The New Yorker
This stunning second novel from Desai (Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard) is set in mid-1980s India, on the cusp of the Nepalese movement for an independent state. Jemubhai Popatlal, a retired Cambridge-educated judge, lives in Kalimpong, at the foot of the Himalayas, with his orphaned granddaughter, Sai, and his cook. The makeshift family's neighbors include a coterie of Anglophiles who might be savvy readers of V.S. Naipaul but who are, perhaps, less aware of how fragile their own social standing is—at least until a surge of unrest disturbs the region. Jemubhai, with his hunting rifles and English biscuits, becomes an obvious target. Besides threatening their very lives, the revolution also stymies the fledgling romance between 16-year-old Sai and her Nepalese tutor, Gyan. The cook's son, Biju, meanwhile, lives miserably as an illegal alien in New York. All of these characters struggle with their cultural identity and the forces of modernization while trying to maintain their emotional connection to one another. In this alternately comical and contemplative novel, Desai deftly shuttles between first and third worlds, illuminating the pain of exile, the ambiguities of post-colonialism and the blinding desire for a "better life," when one person's wealth means another's poverty.
The theme of loss is explored in this novel through the lives of three characters: a retired judge who went to Cambridge and is now living in Kalimpong, a remote town isolated on the edge of the Himalayas; his orphaned teenage granddaughter, Sai, who lives with him; and her math tutor, Gyan, who soon becomes involved with revolutionaries. Another character, Biju, whose story is told as if he lives in a parallel universe, is an illegal immigrant in New York City, going from one job to another, trying to find a place for himself. The judge has lost his place in India, where once he identified with the British rather than his own people. Sai has lost her parents, her young love, and hasn't yet found herself. Biju is searching for his place in a new world that seems to have no niche for him. Although this story is set in the 1980s, the issues of immigration and resentment of the West by those living in the East are relevant to the post-9/11 world. Despite its serious themes and message that multiculturalism may not be the answer to the world's or any individual's personal woes, Desai's descriptions and her humor make this intensely dense novel of national and personal identity fascinating. (Winner of the 2006 Man Booker Prize.)
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