A haunting debut novel about two young women in Mumbai that brings the brutal realities of modern India into focus.
Trasi cleverly divides her tale into two narratives: in one that begins in 1986, readers follow young Mukta, the child of a prostitute, who seems doomed to eventually work in the sex trade herself. Thanks to her mother’s efforts, however, she instead becomes a foster child in an upper-class household. There, she meets Tara, a spirited young woman who’s never known poverty. The second narrative flashes forward to Tara as an adult in 2004, living in Los Angeles. She returns to India in order to find Mukta, who had been kidnapped 11 years earlier. Although the tandem timelines and alternating points of view could have potentially caused confusion, Trasi capably steers readers through each scene, developing both plotlines until they finally converge. For readers unfamiliar with the most populous city in India, the prose vividly re-creates everyday life there, but the most powerful aspect of Trasi’s book is its prince-and-the-pauper motif: the disparity between rich and poor is evident from the first chapters, and Mukta often seems resigned to a terrible fate, even after five years of comfort and safety in Tara’s family’s home. The descriptions and dialogue are rich and believable, particularly when Trasi writes from a child’s perspective (“my thoughts would race along with the wind, crossing our village, whistling through mountains, between boulders and rocks, ruffling the leaves on trees, flying with the birds”). The story also takes on difficult subject matter, such as child abuse, HIV, and early mortality, with unflinching seriousness. Even Tara’s interactions with the police demonstrate how chronic disorganization plagues Indian society, allowing countless youths to vanish into bordellos. The two main characters serve as symbols of the entire caste system, and Mukta’s memory of her dreary village consistently reminds readers how rigid and prosaic many ancient traditions can be. Although both main characters must contend with destiny—a recurring concept—the story makes clear that there may still be hope for their children. The story’s major twist is fairly predictable, and the finale somewhat melodramatic, but for readers familiar with the spiritual significance of the Ganges River, the final pages may still provoke tears.
A sad, soulful, and revelatory story about a deeply troubled nation in transition.