In Mitra’s debut novel, a low-caste Indian man climbs the ladder of financial success while facing romantic difficulties.
Rahul Anthony Gomes comes from a poor Catholic community, but with his graduation from the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta business school, he has “forced [his] way into the merit society.” However, his relatives and friends warn him not to aim too high, because “[d]warfs shouldn’t try to reach for the moon.” During India’s late-1990s economic boom, with its loosening social strictures, Rahul keeps climbing higher. When he loses his job after refusing to quash a report predicting the dot-com crash, he gets a better position with a more ethical company. A fancy air-conditioned apartment, a company car, a generous expense allowance, a high salary—what more could he want? He still carries a torch for his ex-wife Anita, now remarried, whose “childhood problems weren’t addressed properly,” according to her therapist. She comes from a wealthy, well-connected Hindu family, and her mother drove her mercilessly to succeed. She reconnects with Rahul when she sees that his ambitions now seem to match her own. Will it work out a second time? Mitra, the national editor of India’s Hindustan Times, has plenty of experience reporting on the economic changes that have transformed the country. He uses that knowledge to good effect here, offering many fascinating glimpses of Indian and Calcuttan life; for example, he writes that post-colonial Calcutta “proceeded to rename snooty Harrington Street after Ho Chi Minh. Both the United States and the UK consulates are located on it.” However, some readers may lose interest in the back and forth between Rahul and Anita, as the same issues are rehashed again and again; too often, they’re tagged with pat answers, as if from a magazine advice column: “You weren’t communicating properly,” instructs one of Anita’s friends. “He found it difficult to accept the fact that you were doing so well.” These analyses may be true, but they’re much less compelling than, for example, Rahul’s difficult relationship with his mother.
An often engaging rags-to-riches story with a fresh setting and a sympathetic hero.