A masterfully told story of an old murder with a long reach moves seamlessly from the past to the present, from India to England, as a middle-aged Indian tries to learn the truth about his mother and a friend’s past.
Now based in England, the Indian-born Sinha (The Cybergypsies: A True Tale of Lust, War, and Betrayal on the Electronic Frontier, 1999) memorably evokes the contrasting textures of both societies in a first novel ostensibly about a true crime in 1950s Bombay—but in fact more about his protagonist’s own life. It’s 1998, and narrator Bhalu, a bookseller in Lewes, is summoned to London by his 76-year-old mother, Maya, who tells him she’s dying. In Bombay, Maya had been a noted storyteller and scriptwriter for the film industry; but as a young student, Bhalu was arrested in a police raid, and once Maya secured his release, sent him to England, shortly following there herself. Now, Maya, who believes that lives are continually unfolding and that stories never really end, claims she left India for Bhalu’s sake. Their leaving seems also strangely connected to the murder of one “Mr. Love,” a famous Bombay philanderer. Recalling his childhood in Bombay and the Amborna Hills, where he first met English Phoebe and her mother Sybil, a close friend of Maya’s, Bhalu also ruefully details his failures as a husband and as a filmmaker. Back in India he and Phoebe were close childhood friends who would explore the local countryside while Maya helped Sybil recover from an unspecified illness. Later, after Maya’s death, Bhalu learns real story about Sybil when Phoebe, unmarried and curiously elusive, contacts him suggesting that he read Sybil’s notebooks. From them he learns of Sybil’s affair with “Mr. Love,” her botched abortion, and the mysterious blackmailer who not only destroyed Sybil but also drove Maya and Bhalu to England. Returning to India to track down the blackmailer, Bhalu will finally understand both his own past, as well his mother’s and Sybil’s.
A stylish, page-turning debut.