A talky, pleasing generational novel of divided worlds, blending postmodern conceits with old-fashioned whodunit conventions.
Owen Monroe is a writer and slacker of dissolute tendencies, better versed in Shiraz vintages and American sitcoms than in history. “I can forgive America anything for these girls it produces,” he sighs, ogling a rerun of Supergirl. Yet, now that his Anglo-Indian parents, born of two cultures and peoples, are aging, Owen is paying more attention to them, visiting their suburban home for “moreish nibbles of my parents’ lost past—gathia, choora and seo—followed by a lunch of korma (the dry South Indian version, not the curry house’s coconut jism) with pepper-water and plain Dehra Dun rice.” His parents are talking and now Owen’s listening as, fragment by fragment, their story unfolds: a courtship fraught with difficulty, Ross Monroe’s failed career as a prizefighter, his more successful ventures as the victim of an elaborate con game that liberates from him his most prized possession, his mother’s bloodstone ring, “green chalcedony with blood-like spots of jasper.” The liberator is a jutted-chin Brit out of Kipling’s “The Man Who Would Be King,” whom Ross will meet again—and so will Owen. The aptly named Mr. Skinner is but one of Ross’s problems, as Owen learns as he gets deeper into a book project about the Cheechees, the Anglo-Indians of the last generation before Indian independence. Owen’s own life is not without dramas, if sometimes vicarious ones, that sometimes rather too neatly fall in parallel with those of the narrative he is pursuing. But then, as Owen explains, “Destiny, like truth, never really surprises; some Chomskyan grammar is there to receive it.” Tracking those parallels leads to some surprises, as well as a shaggy-dog false ending that gives way to a more satisfying payoff.
A vigorous roman à ghee, reminiscent at turns of Vikram Seth, Zadie Smith and Douglas Coupland.