I read poetry after a long time and enjoyed it. Nair’s poems are short, everyday, and fun. As with any other collection, the quality varies; there are good ones and those that are not so good. But most were enjoyable – very today, fresh and thoughtful. My only complaint – Nair is a stickler for rhyming and sometimes it is limiting – the result can be childish at times. Rhyming is her strong point and rhyming poetry is easy on the eyes but not beyond a point.
Akhil Sharma was my third Ubud Festival writer (so apparently the festivals work) and he rocked. Family life is a touching immigrant story written with humor and wit. A middle class Indian immigrant family making adjustments in US, runs aground when Birju, their eldest son, sustains brain damage and needs constant care. Written from the POV of the younger son and penned without excessive sentimentality, Family Life is funny and tragic in turns. Two areas where Akhil Sharma does really well: (i) The voice is brilliant. I truly admire authors who can get into the minds of children and (ii) the precision of the language. It is like each word has been chosen with care so that nothing is wasted. On the whole, a very pleasant experience, despite the sudden and unwarranted end.
This time, Jhumpa Lahiri has stepped out of her comfort zone of telling an immigrant story and has even flirted with the naxalite movement. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. At least for me. The novel traces the lives of two brothers – Subhash and Udayan – and the different paths they decide to pursue. The book starts disappointingly – Lahiri on the unfamiliar territory of Bengal’s naxalite movement – but gains credibility soon thereafter when Subhash moves to US. In her comfort zone, Lahiri is superb. Subhash’s loneliness, fascination with US, constant comparisons and longing for India – is captured beautifully. And the beauty of the writing persists when Udayan’s wife Gauri married Subhash after Udayan’s death and follows him to US. Their daughter Bela’s journey back home to India is equally fascinating. And the most amazing thing about Lahiri unfolds here: she has told us this story many times – in Namesake and her short stories – and yet it is fresh, moving and powerful. Her USP continues to be her ability to tug at hearts without being melodramatic. There were at least two occasions when I cried. First, when Gauri leaves Subhash and Bela comforts him and second, when Subhash goes to the local farmers’ markets because the folks there remind him of Bela. What doesn’t work is the portion in India on the naxalite movement. Under Lahiri’s pen, it doesn’t hold you or jolt you. What also doesn’t work is the story meandering a bit, particularly towards the end. Nonetheless a master story-teller is a master story-teller. Like I say, if there is one writer who I would want to write like, it would have to be Jhumpa Lahiri.
Not often you read stories set on Indian reservations. The Round House is a saga of rape, exploitation and bravery – not an unfamiliar territory for native Indians on the reservations. A disgruntled white man connected to a powerful politician carries out a killing to hide the evidence of his own misdeeds and then compounds the crime by raping an eyewitness – and both the victims are Indian women. The story, told by the second victim’s son, is essentially an unraveling of the mystery of what actually transpired. The plot by itself isn’t exceptional but is told well. The setting is unique – the modern day life on Indian reservations is captured really well. However, what stands out is the voice of the narrator. A genuine teenaged voice, reminiscent of Salinger. The POV is strong, stark and deeply endearing.