Book Quote:

“Bakul and Mukunda had populated Songarh with their own secret places and people. To them it throbbed with magic and meanings which only the two of them could share. They had been together always, ever since Mukunda had joined the household when he was six and Bakul four. They had agreed they were ‘both’ orphans: after all, Bakul had reasoned, she was an orphan too because her mother was dead and her father, an archeologist, was away on digs in other parts of the country for such long years at a stretch that she forgot his face in between.”

Book Review:

Review by Bonnie Brody  (APR 21, 2011)

The title of this book alone drew me in; that and I’m partial to books about India. This is a fine book on many levels and I was not disappointed. It’s a multigenerational novel, a great love story, a cross-cultural learning experience, and a book about yearning, hope, loss, money and betrayal. It captures the big themes of life and does a great job of keeping the reader turning the pages.

The story starts out in 1907 when Amulya takes his family from Calcutta to Songarh, a small town on the edge of the jungle. He has a wife and two grown sons, along with one daughter-in law. He builds a house in the middle of nowhere. There are no other houses nearby except for one belonging to an English couple across the street. There is dirt, mud, the screech of monkies and not much else. Kananbala, Amulya’s wife, gradually loses her sanity from the loneliness and utters irrelevant profanities at the oddest times. Amulya confines Kananbala to her room so as to avoid embarrassment. There she languishes, for the most part alone and lonely. She takes to watching the comings and goings of the English couple across the street and is witness to a murder. Her interpretation of what she sees has a fascinating outcome.

Amulya owns a spice factory where he concocts herbal remedies and perfumes that he sells. The language in Solgarh is Hindi whereas the language in Calcutta, where they came from is Bengali. Gradually, the family becomes fluent in Hindi but it is a struggle. While Amulya is alive, the factory does very well financially and the house he builds for his family is quite grand.

As time progresses, Nirmal, the single son, takes a wife named Shanti. They have a daughter named Bakul but Shanti dies in childbirth and Nirmal is left to raise Bakul on his own. Nirmal is an archeologist and geologist who is also a roamer. He is home very infrequently and sometimes does not see Bakul for years at a time. It just so happens that Amulya is sponsoring Mukunda, a young boy in the local orphanage. He brings Mukunda home to provide a friend for Bakul. Bakul is four and Mukunda six when Mukunda comes to live in Amulya’s household. This causes a whole set of difficulties because Mukunda’s caste is unknown. He may even be a child from a jungle tribe.

Mukunda and Bakul grow up together and are close in every way. They love to play at Mrs. Barnum’s house, the Englishwoman from across the way. She lives under the shadow of suspicion as her husband was killed on her front stoop and she has always been a suspect in the murder. Nevertheless, Mrs. Barnum, who likes to drink a lot, stages monthly birthday parties for herself and the children are always invited. She has a huge library that Mukunda goes through, reading just about every book there.

As Bakul and Mukunda grow older, the family starts to worry about improprieties. What if they were to be too intimate with one another? How do they know the appropriate way to act? They stay out together to all hours and all their time is spent with one another. A decision is made to send Mukunda away to boarding school. The reason given is that it is necessary for him to get a good education. However, he feels betrayed, thrown out just like he was thrown out when he was put into the orphanage. He becomes bitter and resentful, blaming Nirmal for his perceived exile.

The years go by and we learn about Mukunda and Bakul’s adulthood. There are many surprises in this book and as the story unfurls there is a lot of tension and build-up towards the finale. Parts of the book have coincidences that seem too much like a deus ex machina. However, it all falls into place beautifully. The novel is in the third person except for the last part of the book which is told in the first person by Mukunda. This part is his story. The writing is lyrical and the story is gripping. Though this is a debut novel, the reader would never know it. Anuradha Roy writes with a polished hand and the result is a reader’s delight.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 7 readers
PUBLISHER: Free Press; Original edition (April 5, 2011)
REVIEWER: Bonnie Brody
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Haunting Bombay by Shilpa Agarwal

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga


April 21, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Debut Novel, Family Matters, India-Pakistan, Reading Guide, World Lit

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