A richly detailed narrative from Indian-born novelist/biologist Gupta (Memories of Rain, 1992, etc.) luminously explores obsessive love.
Like an accomplished fabulist, Gupta tells a story that in its deft symmetry and evocation of transcendent emotion resembles more a modern fairy tale than a gritty reprise of adultery. The tale begins as young Bengali Debendranath Roy, trying to distance himself from his family in India, arrives at Oxford as a graduate student. As he settles into his boardinghouse room, he recalls how his older brother, a wealthy businessman like their father, married Reba, a woman Debendranath suspects he never understood. Debendranath then relates how he fell in love with the beautiful Reba, a singer of classic Bengali songs and the daughter of a distinguished intellectual and musical family. Though still obsessively in love with his sister-in-law, Debendranath marries Jennifer, his landlady’s niece, and the couple returns to India for a year-long visit. Jennifer becomes close to Reba’s daughter Niharika, but the visit only reminds Debendranath how much he still loves Reba, and shortly after he and Jennifer return to England he takes a punt out onto the Cherwell river, and—assumed to have drowned—is not seen again for 20 years. Niharika, scholarly like her uncle, also comes to Oxford and also commits Debendranath’s sin of color (“a sin of proper beauty, and not some mean thing”) by falling in love with married photographer Daniel Faraday. Niharika returns to the Calcutta home the rest of the family has abandoned and writes a novel about her uncle as a means of understanding his disappearance. She also meets an attractive Indian doctor she considers marrying. But when Debendranath suddenly turns up, and when Niharika meets Daniel back in England, love again surprises in ways that are unexpected but exactly right.
One of those rare love stories that resonates with passion and intelligence.