Second-novelist Deb (The Point of Return, 2003), an author with great craft and potential, ventures into the militant-controlled territories of northeastern India.
Rummaging through the “morgue” of dead stories at the offices of the Calcutta newspaper where he has worked for the past ten years, reporter Amrit Singh fixes on a terrorist group’s chilling photograph of an abducted porn actress and two of her kidnappers. Hoping to emerge from “the stupor of the past seven years” at his paper and start a new life, Singh parlays the photo into an assignment from a European magazine to find the woman and learn what has become of her. With the long-distance help of Robiul, Singh’s mentor and an expert in the far-flung region of India where these terrorists operate, he works his way from cheap hotel to bus station to guard outpost and beyond, gradually submerging himself in a miasma of broken-down government and ramped-up insurgencies. The milieu, from beginning to end, has the disorder of a developing region plagued by Islamic fundamentalist violence and gang militarism, where one more disappearance is not necessarily big news. The major players are organizations with acronyms like MORLS and SLORC, but it’s the intimacy with the minor players—the aunt of the woman in the photograph, the tea salesman in the next hotel room—that gives this story its power. Deb’s style is straight-up occidental, forgoing the exotic aura of Arundhati Roy’s or Salman Rushdie’s tales. Of a small-time filmmaker in the region Singh says, “Even the barking of the dogs sounded foreign to him as he stumbled along in the cold, still half-asleep from the bus ride, so that the pine trees bleached white by the moonlight seemed like some blurred landscape from his disturbed dreams.”
A sophisticated adventure novel, restless to break out, yet comfortably couched in its genre.