Part international thriller, part romantic soap opera and less satisfying than the author’s previous works.
The third novel from the India-born, Maryland-based professor of mathematics (The Age of Shiva, 2008, etc.) deals with all sorts of schisms: between Hindus and Muslims, India and Pakistan, spiritual and secular. But the main battle here is sexual, a romantic triangle to which one party is oblivious throughout most of the novel, climaxing in purple prose that American readers might associate with a bodice ripper but in the land of the burqa. “Surely supernovas explode that instant, somewhere, in some galaxy,” gushes Sarita, one of the novel’s co-narrators, the bride whose explosive consummation apparently makes the delay worth the frustration, despite the complication apparently necessary to arouse her husband’s ardor. “The hut vanishes, and with it the sea and the sands—only Karun’s body, locked with mine, remains. We streak like superheroes past suns and solar systems, we dive through shoals of quarks and atomic nuclei.” In other words, an apparently successful reunion with her physicist husband, who disappeared mysteriously on the eve of a rumored atomic attack by Pakistan on India, sparking genocidal violence between the Hindu and Muslim populations of the author’s native Mumbai. As she announces early on, “the sole imperative in my mind was to find Karun, or risk everything trying.” Most of the novel details that increasingly dangerous quest, through a narrative interspersed with various flashbacks to the courtship of Sarita, a statistician past 30 when she meets her future husband, the sexually ambivalent Karun. Early on, she acquires a companion and accomplice, and the novel a co-narrator: a handsome cosmopolitan of Muslim origin who shares her goal—“Karun, whom I must find, whom I need to dazzle, whose rectitude I hope to penetrate”—though the passion of the “the Jazter” (as he calls himself) for her husband remains secret from Sarita.
The melodrama of romantic intrigue is this novel’s driving force.