Shanbhag, in his English-language debut, seamlessly translated from the Kannada by Perur, explores the turbid and ominous undercurrents running beneath a family’s newfound success and the society from which it sprang.
In his native city of Bangalore, the narrator, a young married man, sits in an elegant cafe with the incongruously functional name Coffee House, desperate to speak with the waiter, Vincent. The man, a regular customer, has such faith in Vincent’s oracular wisdom that his wife will sometimes ask him, "Did you visit your temple today?" But now he fears what Vincent might have to say, and, while he vacillates over whether to seek Vincent’s counsel, he recounts what it is that brought him here: the story of his family. Once living on the razor’s edge of financial ruin, the young man’s family is catapulted to a life of plenty and idleness when his father is let go from his job as a coffee salesman and invests his pension in his uncle’s new business, Sona Masala, the sole service of which is purported to be repackaging spices. The young man is made director in the company but soon finds that he has no say in, no insight into, and no work to do within the company, and he comes to his office only to nap on his couch and collect a generous salary. While some family members sink into feckless denial of their uncle’s questionable morality, others savor the power it brings them. As the family once took cold pleasure in destroying the ants that invaded the run-down rented house of their poorer past, they exult in using intimidation and occasional violence to ward off anyone they view as a potential threat to their way of life.
A compact novel that crackles with tension, tracing the tangled path of a family's dissolution in their sudden rise to wealth.