In her first novel for adults, Indian author Mukherjee (English/Hindu College, Delhi Univ.) explores how the past shapes the present.
As a young man, Sameer loved Abha. Abha wanted him to marry her friend, Vandana. Vandana married Sameer after she realized that she and David—an Englishman obsessed with India—had no future together. Vandana and David remained in the holy city of Varanasi; she became a social worker, he continued to study Indian religion, and both of them developed ties to a local ashram. Sameer and Vandana, both doctors, set up a thoroughly conventional upper-middle-class household—complete with son and daughter—in New Delhi. Old desires and new revelations disturb all their lives when a little boy born and raised in the ashram comes to live with the Sengupta family. By the time the reader understands what’s going on in this novel, she may be well past caring. The simplest, most basic pleasures that narrative has to offer is the gratification of finding out what happens next. This novel does not offer that. The story moves back and forth in time in a clumsy, haphazard fashion. Often, it takes awhile to figure out whether a scene is happening in the present or the past, which makes for a disorienting, off-putting read. That Mukherjee denies readers the simple satisfaction of a straightforward narrative would be forgivable if her meandering served a pleasing aesthetic end, but it does not, nor does she offer any of literature’s other joys. Her prose is stiff and clumsy. The dialogue, in particular, reads like it’s been translated into English by someone with a bilingual dictionary and no actual experience with the language.
Awkward and unsatisfying.