THE COFFER DAMS by Kamala Markandaya


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The author has, in earlier novels, concerned herself with India's poor, and in this novel about a dam building in southern India, she highlights the conflict of Western technological mores with various strata of old and new India. Builder Clinton, arriving in India with his young wife Helen, is swept up in the exhilaration of completing his creation, the dam, but although the cooperating Indian engineers are equally eager for the dam's completion, they are leery of the punishing schedule. Helen, aware of the very different heartbeat of the tribal society in the nearby jungle, is increasingly drawn to those intimately human realities which are bypassed by the rush of machines and planners. Soon the dam begins to claim its major sacrifices, both British and Indian, including Helen's lover, the young Indian engineer, Bashiam, crippled for life. As the monsoon comes, and the doubt that the dam will hold grips the British, loneliness--even madness--destroys the hitherto barely surviving common front. Miraculously the monsoon ends, the dam holds and the villagers, ""their concerns being different,"" see the coffers ""bleached and clean."" But the Westerners, drained and isolated, are aware of the loss. Although the author sluices through characterization mainly to pan out a message, her dramatic punctuality in sustaining suspense and her empathy with a rugged landscape and rugged people just holds back a too-easy commercialism.

Pub Date: May 28th, 1969
Publisher: John Day