Anjali Joseph processes bewilderment ♦
If Anjali Joseph’s second novel is best devoured in one sitting, it’s not because it wouldn’t hold up to slow, literary scrutiny. Rather, it’s because Another Country is the refreshing opposite of that “urgent book” that demands moral engagement. It builds character-driven emotional momentum through protagonist Leela’s peregrinations through Paris, London and Bombay.
Another Country offers a classic literary thrill – of making sense of the world, which is subtly different from knowing it better. Leela – a little privileged, a little repressed and confused about where she belongs – navigates her twenties at the turn of the century with a familiar postcolonial savvy. She covers up her alienation and aimlessness with work (teaching English in Paris, temping in London, faffing at an NGO in Bombay) and relationships that accurately, depressingly capture modern sexuality. Throughout, Joseph keeps Leela (whose journey echoes her own) from becoming a cliché or a self-portrait by imbuing her with a potent, childish frustration with the world. This frustration bubbles up in one climactic scene, when Leela dreams of Christmas with her college best friend: Leela “was bewildered at the wealth of happenings that were attached to the surface of her experience.” Processing bewilderment by telling its story is perhaps a task most successfully accomplished by literature.
Saraswati Park, Joseph’s debut, had characters mired in their lives in Mumbai. The unfixed Leela seeks to make her own life. Joseph sketches both conundrums well; she’s a gifted writer, with a nice habit of letting conversations dangle. We expect Joseph could take on an even more ambitious project, if the wealth of happenings that constitute life permit.