Tag Archives: Migration

Another Country

Anjali Joseph processes bewilderment ♦

Another-Country-JPEG2If 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.
Originally published in Time Out Delhi, August 2012.

Published: August 4, 2012

Welcome to Americastan

Jabeen Akhtar knocks stereotypes out of focus ♦

americastanSamira 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.
Originally published in Time Out Delhi, September 2011.

Published: September 4, 2011