THAT TIME IN MALOMBA by James Hamilton-Paterson


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Novels--all beautifully written--about Westerners behaving foolishly in distant parts, where the natives are no slouches either at exploiting travellers, seem to be a special accomplishment of British writers, and this US debut by Hamilton-Paterson is no exception. The setting is an Asian holy city, Malomba, home to 39 religions, which lives off the tourists who come in search of miracle cures, greater spirituality, and--for those able to gain access to the Temple of the Left-Handed Shaktas--sex. It is a situation pregnant with comedy and exploitation, and Laki, the ambitious bellboy of the decaying Hotel Nirvana, is eager to do his bit. When the British Hemony family--mother Tessa and Zoe and Jason, her two adolescent children--arrive to keep the appointment for ""psychic surgery"" on Tessa's back, Laki takes charge of them, first housing them at the Nirvana and then performing all sorts of services to ingratiate himself. Tessa, a disciple of a swami whose mantra is ""Not striving, not grasping, I am in bliss,"" lives with her children in an ashram in Italy. Her children, who yearn to live a normal life, are irritated by their mother's naivetÉ and way of life. As the Hemonys tour the town while they wait for Tessa's surgery, they become aware of a pervasive odor that seems uniquely Malomban. This smell--the scent of the Kadresh vine--has a particular potency, and Laki effectively exploits it to seduce all three Hemonys. Tessa's back is cured, the family leaves, and Laki--though fired by his boss--has his own triumph. Typical of the genre, it is the telling, the describing, and the creation of character that make the story--a familiar one--so thoroughly enjoyable. Hamilton-Paterson has a keen eye for colorful detail, for human absurdity, and the inevitable comedy of errors that occurs When two cultures meet. A delightfully rich read.

Pub Date: Sept. 14th, 1990
Publisher: Soho--dist. by Farrar, Straus & Giroux