Author: Sonal | Category: Books, Time Out Delhi, Writing | Tags: Anjali Joseph, Book review, Fiction, Migration
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.
Another Country, HarperCollins, ₹499.
Published: August 4, 2012
Author: Sonal | Category: Books, Time Out Delhi, Writing | Tags: America, Book review, Fiction, Jabeen Akhtar, Migration
Jabeen Akhtar knocks stereotypes out of focus ♦
Samira Tanweer just wants to be left alone. Unfortunately for the former political analyst, being back in the bosom of her Pakistani-American family isn’t going to make it easy for her to put back together the pieces of her recently shattered life.
Samira indulges in a fair amount of wallowing, before succumbing to the demanding force of her parent’s love. The book threatens to overflow with Samira’s claustrophobic cultural baggage and self-pitying tears (she’s landed herself on the FBI terror watch list for attempting to run over her two-timing ex). Her confessional passages sound awkwardly authorial, but what kept us reading was Akhtar’s knack for poignant scenes and conversations, which knock stereotypes satisfyingly out of focus.
Akhtar also manages to press all this tragedy into the service of comedy. Using both wry and warm humour, she sends Samira through a redemptive cycle from loathing to self-deprecation to sanity. Along the way are witty encounters with the inhabitants of Cary, North Carolina: discount store racists and apologists, alcohol-drinking Muslims and overly affectionate cousins.
Akhtar occasionally veers towards purple prose and the novel seems to hang between multi-culti coming-of-age story, chick lit and dear diary. Yet, while Welcome to Americastan might not have the plot twists of Zadie Smith’s first novel nor the magical realist ambitions of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, its lack of pretension make it worth all the woe.
Welcome to Americastan, Penguin, ₹499.
Published: September 4, 2011