A coming-of-age novella in which a young girl dreams of leaving India.
Kamada, the teenage narrator of Philip’s spirited, absorbing debut novel, declares: “I will be the hero of my life. I will make deliberate choices to create my own destiny and escape my mother’s dirty world.” Her mother is a high-priced prostitute, an imperious and sharp-tongued woman not above striking her daughter when displeased with her; she has nevertheless raised Kamada in comparatively luxurious comfort, in a nice house with servants to attend her. The “dirty world” here is not only the prostitute life (into which Kamada’s mother expects her to follow), but the teeming city of Bombay, which Philip captures with overflowing detail. The streets Kamada navigates are full of ordinary people “eager to rush home to cook elaborate meals for their husbands or watch the latest cricket match,” but they are also full of rickshaw wallahs, eunuch hijras and violent beggars. It’s a profusely colorful world, though it holds no charms for Kamada. A “small brown boy pours some [lemon sherbet] into two glasses for two brown men with moustaches. Brown sparrows trill on electric poles. I am a brown girl in a brown world,” she says. She dreams of leaving it all behind and going to America to study and live. “I will escape this chaos,” she vows. “I will escape these people jamming the traffic and the traffic jamming the people.” Her means of escape is the blue folder she carries everywhere, containing all the carefully assembled documents she needs to take her GED test and apply for her student visa; she also escapes via her own antic imagination, which conjures fantasy creatures everywhere, animates the fruits at vending stalls and lends voices to the city’s potholes. It’s this overlay of fantasy, always evocatively but matter-of-factly interwoven with the real-world narrative, that lends the book its greatest charm. The sheer manic detail of it all speaks eloquently of Kamada’s fever-pitch desperation for a new life, and its resolution at the book’s end is touchingly bittersweet.
An extremely memorable and winning YA tale of the perseverance dreams require.