FREEDOM SONG by Amit Chaudhuri

FREEDOM SONG

Three Novels

KIRKUS REVIEW

Three brilliantly written short novels by a young Anglo-Indian author who has been praised throughout Great Britain as one of his generation’s finest prose stylists. And the reader immediately sees why in the opening pages of “A Strange and Sublime Address” (1991), which recounts in delightfully funny detail the perceptions of Sandeep, a ten-year-old boy from Calcutta whose family pays an extended visit to his uncle’s bustling and eccentric Bombay home, then returns a year and a half later to chart the progress of Uncle Chhotomama, a loony mixture of communist ideologue and failed businessman whom Salman Rushdie might have invented. The story is plotless; Chaudhuri simply presents a parade of gorgeous vignettes and tableaus filled with wondrously observed small moments (when a toddler takes one hesitant step, “its other leg forgot it was a leg, and the child, bewildered by its own body, collapsed in a soft heap”). “Afternoon Raag” (1993) depicts with comparable facility the confused sensibility of a music student (perhaps the grown-up Sandeep, though not specifically identified as him) at Oxford, poised uncertainly between the comforting world of his parents back in Bombay and the contrasting promises of two girl students he tells himself he loves. The piece is slight but beautifully done. The more ambitious “Freedom Song” (1995) examines the relations among two families living together temporarily in present-day Calcutta: Shib, who works in a British-owned chocolate factory, and his wife Xhuku; and then also Xhuku’s weirdly extended “family of ne’er-do-wells” whose communal raison d’àtre seems to be the need to arrange a proper marriage for Xhuku’s scandalous nephew Bhaskar, a devout communist who performs political street theater. The two families” ineffably comic, intrinsically melancholy interactions are rendered with quiet compassion in a tour de force that suggests an Indian Buddenbrooks in miniature. Some of the most accomplished fiction of the decade.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-375-40427-9
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1999




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