by Jjumpa Lahirir
read by: Sunil Malhotra
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I admit that I picked this up solely because M is currently in the part of India where this is set. I thought: Kolkata, Bengali… I should see if I could learn a little more of where M is staying for the next school year. Other than that, I really had no expectations.
It’s a much more political work than I was expecting. While, nominally it’s the story of the relationship between two brothers, Shubash and Udayan Mitra, Lahriri uses the background of the political unrest and Communist movement in India as a backdrop. The two brothers, who were close as children, grow apart as Udayan (the younger) gets involved with the Naxalite movement and Shubash heads to Rhode Island to pursue a PhD. Udayan gets married to Gauri (which Malhotra alternately pronounced Godi and Gori, so I had to check on the spelling) and then ends up killed by the police. When Shubash comes back for the funeral, he takes pity on Gauri, mostly because she’s pregnant, and marries her, bringing her back to the US.
That is the first third of the book. At which point, I was left wondering: What on earth is Lahiri going to do with the rest of the novel? Well, much like Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed, Lahiri explores the ramifications of those decisions. We follow Shubash and Gauri, and later Gauri’s biological daughter, through the years to present day (when Shubash is 70, and Gauri s in her mid-60s), and experience the fallout. Because there is fallout, and it’s not pleasant.
As I mentioned to people that I was reading this, their first question was “Do you like it?” Well…. no. And yes. It wasn’t bad enough to abandon. Malhotra was a delightful reader, capturing both Indian and American accents well. Perhaps it was him who kept my interest in the book going, because I was constantly annoyed at the characters. Gauri could never get past her dead love and move on with her life. And right up to the end, she never thought about the consequences for her actions, acting impulsively. But the thing that really infuriated me was Shubash’s insistence that because he wasn’t the sperm donor for Gauri and Udayan’s daughter, that he wasn’t her father. He. Raised. The. Girl. He was there for her when her mother abandons her, and yet he still questions whether or not he’s her father. *grumble* Biology isn’t what being a parent is about.
Maybe that was Lahiri’s point, in the end. Because, after finishing the last disc (a very unsatisfying ending, by the way), that’s what I got out of it. Family is what you make, and loving and caring for other people is the way to happiness.
So maybe it was a good book after all?