Five ingeniously linked long stories by the young Indian-born author whose impressive fictional debut was the magical-realist Red Earth and Pouring Rain (1995). These stories, which are uniformly full-bodied and richly detailed, are told by a convivial yet enigmatic civil servant, Subramaniam, to his attentive cronies in a bar called the Fisherman's Rest. Each recounts a quest of some kind, and all are distinguished by unusually detailed and persuasive characterizations. ``Dharma'' tells of a stoical combat veteran who experiences ``phantom pain'' in his amputated leg and consequently a ghostly visitation that brings equally painful memories of his childhood. ``Shakti'' is an amusing tale of rivalry between two socially ambitious women that is resolved by an unexpected alliance. In ``Kama,'' the investigation of an apparently open-and- shut robbery and murder uncovers a morass of sexual and political misdoing and the complicated personal life of Sartaj, the police detective who learns as much about himself as about the killer he pursues. ``Artha'' and ``Shanti,'' respectively, describe a gay computer programmer's dangerous search for information about his disappeared lover, and a twin bereft of his brother and in love with a beautiful married woman who travels ceaselessly looking for the truth about her long-lost husband, a soldier reported missing in action. ``Love and longing'' indeed are thus, in various ways, the motive forces behind these pieces--and in the last, the tale- teller Subramaniam is himself an important presence, and we realize how the preceding stories have also expressed aspects of his own loves and longings. A brilliant work, equally effective in its radiant separate parts and as a pleasingly complex and highly original construction.