NAMPALLY ROAD by Meena Alexander


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India-born poet and literary critic Alexander's first novel suffers from sketchy development and schematic plot, but offers vivid pictures of life in Hyderabad and questions about the value of poetry in times of social upheaval. Protagonist Mira Kannadical leaves England after graduate studies in literature and returns to Indira Gandhi-era India to teach at a college in a state ruled by a corrupt Chief Minister. She forms two close relationships: Durgabai, a doctor who works tirelessly for the poor, becomes Mira's friend, surrogate mother, and landlady; Ramu, her colleague and lover, draws her into radical activism in the wake of atrocities, including the brutal crushing of a peaceful protest and a murder and rape perpetrated by the Chief Minister's private police. Mira assists in a tin-roofed clinic, then storms the police station to help rescue the rape victim, Rameeza Be (with whom she shares a mysterious and unconvincing bond). These social and political activities seem so essential that Mira feels ashamed of her love of Wordsworth (whose world of solitude is antithetical to the boisterous, teeming reality of Hyderabad) and her inner need to find an authentic language in which she can express, in poetry, the truths of Indian life. A simplistic plot--with shocking revelations at mass meetings and an upbeat, if momentary, triumph over repressive forces--is almost redeemed by finely drawn scenes, portraits of character types, and a good exposition of Mira's conflict.

Pub Date: Jan. 18th, 1990
Publisher: Mercury House