A striking debut, stronger on the micro than the macro.


The chain of events connecting a privileged young Indian woman, her volatile mother, and a tale-spinning Kashmiri merchant leads to tragedy in a story of religious conflict and domestic damage set in contemporary India.

Taking the classic form of a journey, Vijay’s vivid debut moves from sophisticated contemporary Bangalore to a harshly beautiful Himalayan mountain village as Shalini, a 30-year-old woman haunted by memories of her sarcastic, restless mother, recounts her painful accumulation of wisdom. As a child, Shalini’s home was periodically visited by Bashir Ahmed, a clothing merchant, one of a very few people attuned to Shalini’s mercurial mother. Although Bashir Ahmed could tell magical stories, his home life in Kashmir was becoming threatened by Hindu-Muslim tensions provoked by militant activism and the brutal response of the Indian army. Now, attempting to resolve her feelings about her mother’s death nine years earlier, Shalini feels Bashir Ahmed might hold the key and travels to remote Kashmir to find him. Her comfortable life is replaced with something more basic as she discovers small communities, kindly individuals, friendship, attraction, a possible new role for herself—and secrets. But Shalini is naïve, and her efforts to help others, and herself, ultimately prove catastrophic. Shuttling between past and present and exploring complicated themes of parental fealty, identity, and religious schism, Vijay’s ambitious novel is at its most magnetic when recounting Shalini’s immersion in a different world, her embrace by new kinds of family, and the lessons she learns. But its epic length sets up expectations of equally immersive political history, and here the storytelling is cloudier, staffed with clichéd characters. Most memorable are the scenes of stripped-down joy in the mountains where the author’s elegant, calm prose and intense evocations of people and places come into their own.

A striking debut, stronger on the micro than the macro.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2840-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.


The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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