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Everyone has a story to tell in this impressive debut from Bombay-bred, Houstonbased Chandra: a wide-ranging, often riveting patchwork of India's past and present and the clash of cultures in colonial and post-colonial times. Abhay returns to India after graduating from Pomona College, restless and unhappy; as a way of relieving tension he shoots an old monkey that's been stealing from his family for years. The monkey, on death's door, remembers its former life as an 18th-century poet, and in an agreement with the Lord of Death is allowed to live to tell its story (by means of typewriter!) to those interested. Abhay, his family, and an ever-increasing crowd gather to hear the tale of Sikander and Sanjay, the warrior and the poet, Anglo-Indian brothers who know the curse of being neither fish nor fowl in the early days of the British Raj. In their serpentine saga—from miraculous birth and family tragedy to hard lessons of colonialism—both come to prominence only to turn on each other when Sanjay makes a pact with Death, bartering away his mortality in order to fight the English forever, at home and abroad, while Sikander in his old age dies protecting them. Meanwhile, Abhay, asked to fill in whenever the monkey tires, relates his own story of ennui and displacement in America, a tale in which he and two friends drop their studies and hit the road looking for heaven, which for him amounts to a moment of glory in defeating his girlfriend's father, a racist Texas judge, on the cricket pitch. In the end, he finds his storytelling is just beginning, and for him, too, it becomes a matter of life and death. The magical realities of India and America—the heat of armor in battle, for instance, vs. the heat of a windshield on the freeway—are disparate enough to jar sometimes as the two stories meet. Still: a richly textured and engrossing debut.

Pub Date: Aug. 16th, 1995
ISBN: 0316132934
Page count: 560pp
Publisher: "Little, Brown"