A magical-realist narrative follows a large, eccentric family in India—from dealing with the impoverished years after 1947 to finally solving the supernatural mystery plaguing the clan.
Thekkumthala (Amballore House, 2016) returns to the offbeat universe of his preceding novel with this linked family dynasty saga. A central figure in the ensemble cast is Thoma, a big, blaspheming, and blustery family man in the Indian state of Kerala. Hotheaded and irresponsible, Thoma creates a lot of his own problems. He is a victim at the outset, robbed of his share of his clan’s estate and ejected into the streets just as India wins independence. The new nation’s poverty- and corruption-wracked growing pains mirror the family’s chronic dysfunction, as Thoma repeatedly abuses and impregnates his angular, long-suffering Christian wife, Anna, while failing to pay rent to their slum landlord, Chettiar. It just so happens that Chettiar is a werewolf (talking animals and visiting gods and demons are just a matter of course in this story), and his vengeful rape of Anna introduces a strain of lycanthropy into Thoma’s bloodline. Some of the family’s kids turn out great (the eldest son, Josh), while others have varying shades of villainy and menace—and a few daughters disappear or are murdered. Joining many fellow Indians in a diaspora in Canada pursuing their educations, Josh helps his aging parents get a home of their own, and he even solves the generations-old curse of Chettiar. Like its predecessor, this seriocomic epic blends the myths and religions of several cultures. Hinduism predominates, but one can expect doses of Roman Catholicism, flights of movie fantasy, Gypsy superstitions, and a loving ode to the author’s home, Canada. Thekkumthala’s tone can go from childish to fairy-tale and dime-novel pulp to iridescent to Shakespearean without skipping a beat or violating the reality of the world of marvels and miseries he invokes. Prior acquaintance with(the even less straightforward) Amballore House is unnecessary, although the two certainly bookend each other quite well.
A flavorful mix of genres and influences, especially captivating for fans of Indian storytelling.