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THE WAY THINGS WERE by Aatish Taseer Kirkus Star


by Aatish Taseer

Pub Date: July 7th, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-86547-824-4
Publisher: Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

In this ambitious novel, Taseer chronicles 40 years of modern Indian history through the eyes of a father and son, both scholars of the ancient Indian language Sanskrit.

In the midst of translating The Birth of Kumara, Skanda leaves Manhattan for Geneva to be with his gravely ill father, Toby, the maharaja of Kalasuryaketu. After Toby dies, Skanda must return his body to India, a country his father has not set foot in since 1992. From here, Taseer (Noon, 2011, etc.) skillfully shifts the narrative between Skanda in present-day Delhi and Toby, beginning in 1975, the year of Indira Gandhi’s “Emergency,” continuing through the riots against Sikhs in 1984, the dissolution of his marriage to Skanda’s mother, and, in 1992, the demolition of the mosque in Ayodhya, along with the arrival of American daytime television. Sanskrit phrases bind and illuminate this enchanting saga, and it’s through father's and son’s devotion to the language and their shared “deep knowledge of classical India” that both Skanda and Toby make sense of the history and struggles of their country of origin. “Was the language all that had held the world together? Had that alone been the source of meaning?” As Skanda contemplates how India’s past political strife irrevocably damaged his parents’ marriage, Toby considers, years earlier, whether his love of Sanskrit has distracted him from seeing the truth about his beloved country. “His feeling for the language had now, for as long as he could remember, been part of his way of seeing, part of the way he configured the world. But had it blinded him to the reality of the place?” A year after Toby’s death, when Skanda must release his ashes into the Tamasa River, Skanda begins to appreciate his father’s “whole approach to things, to history, to memory, to place, to civilization.”

A timeless, masterful epic.