Tag Archives: Haves vs. have-nots

A Handbook to Luck by Cristina García

Handbook to LuckTell me if you’ve heard this one before: a Cuban, an El Salvadorean, and an Iranian land on the page and spend decades trying to find their place in the world. Yes? Then, you must have read Cristina García‘s A Handbook to Luck. No? Then read Cristina Garcia’s A Handbook to Luck!

In 1968 Los Angeles, 9-year-old Enrique Florit’s wait for his widowed father’s career as a magician to take off seems to be finally over when Papi announces they’re Las Vegas-bound where he’ll be the warm-up act for Sammy Davis, Jr. Further south in San Salvador, Marta Claros, also just 9, has been forced out of school to sell used clothes to help her pregnant mother; she manages to sneak visits to her brother Evaristo who left the family and lives in a tree. Two years later, on the other side of the world in a Tehran garden, Leila Rezvani is annoyed at her mother who won’t stop flirting with her imported, sweating British horticulturist, even as she’s somewhat awed (then manipulated) by her dying older brother.

Over the next two decades, these three lives (with rare intrusions by the tree-dwelling fourth) will dovetail. Misguided Enrique will prove to be a math wiz who gets into MIT but finds himself unable to abandon his increasingly erratic, gambling father; both remain forever haunted by the accidental death of Enrique’s mother. Desperate Marta finally gets off the San Salvador streets by becoming a teenage bride but finds true contentment thousands of miles away with a married Korean immigrant whose manhood was damaged by seven months of torture. Privileged Leila with her Swiss diploma and her should-have-finished UCLA-degree will marry half a twin and lose herself over and over again. And runaway Evaristo will eventually climb down from his tree, detour through California, before climbing a remote mountain alone …

Cuban-born García – best known for her 1992 National Book Award finalist debut novel, Dreaming in Cuban – moves fluidly between viewpoints and dates, while changing gender, ethnicity, social status, backgrounds with ease. If you choose to stick the book in your ears, narrator Staci Snell effortlessly matches García’s pace, adjusting inflections and tones to voice each developing character. García deftly reveals details of her protagonists’ lives in limited parcels, making sure each chapter both hints at and holds back just enough to keep reading to the next, and next, and next. Magic and accident, running from and running to, entitlement and entrapment – life is about perspective and, as García’s Handbook attests, it’s also about luck.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2007

2 Comments

Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, Carribbean American, Iranian, Latin American, Latino/a

Black Flower by Young-Ha Kim, translated by Charles La Shure

Black FlowerEarlier this year, I received an email from a Chinese Canadian author, May Q. Wong, inquiring about “a shipload of Koreans who sailed to Mexico to find a better life.” Clueless, I forwarded her request to a few of my scholar friends and colleagues … but ‘lo and behold, I actually had the answers (the fictionalized version, anyway) sitting on my shelves!

Black Flower, longlisted for the 2012 Man Asian Literary Prize, is the latest novel to arrive Stateside from Young-ha Kim, one of Korea’s most acclaimed contemporary writers. Kim creates identities, relationships, conflicts, disappointments, and hopes, to reclaim a nearly lost moment in transnational immigration history.

You could read Black Flower as fascinating historical record: 1,033 Koreans left the port of Jemulpo (today’s Incheon) in 1905 on the Ilford, a British merchant ship, and arrived (after two deaths, one birth) in Mexico’s Yucatán as indentured laborers to be parceled out to henequen plantations. The Koreans believed they were escaping a homeland in the midst of shifting powers and Japanese colonization; instead, they were sold into slave-like servitude. Abandoned by their faltering government, the Koreans has no choice but to stay … and survive any way they could. Within the Koreans’ experience, Kim also bears witness to local Mexican history, including the abuses of colonial Christianity, the mistreatment of the indigenous Mayans, and the Mexican Revolution, which eventually (surprisingly!) involves a small band of Korean nationals.

You could also decide that Black Flower is – as the cover proclaims in small print – “a novel,” and revel in the interrelated lives of the passengers. At the end of the grueling Ilford journey, the unintentioned immigrants emerge stripped of status, all equal slave-laborers in the eyes of their would-be masters. Kim breathes life into a diverse cast, including a set of star-crossed orphan and aristocrat lovers, a deserting officer who falls in love with the wrong boy, a priest who abandons his faith, a thief who becomes a voice of god, a last surviving son whose facility with languages grants him access to unquestioned debauchery. If you choose to go audible, Rupert Degas (who narrates many of Haruki Murakami‘s titles) is as clumsy with the Korean language as he is with the Japanese, but his vocal agility adds convincing, haunting layers to Kim’s prose.

In an interview accompanying the PR materials (with similar information included in the printed “Author’s Note” at title’s end), Kim explains that the genesis of Black Flower is rooted in a second-hand airplane conversation that seemed “too mythical,” and eventually led Kim to Mérida in Mexico’s Yucatán, then Tikal and Antigua in Guatemala, to research this “forgotten historical moment.” He named his resulting novel Black Flower because “[b]lack is a color created by combining all the other colors. Similarly, everything is mixed together in this novel – religion, race, status, and gender … But there is no such thing as a black flower; it exists only in the imagination. In the same way, the place that the characters in the novel hoped to go to is a utopia which does not really exist in reality.” With elliptical snapshots that move between place and perspectives, Kim navigates that proverbial fine line between truth and fiction; his Black Flower proves ever elusive and wholly intriguing.

Tidbits: For further reading, check out some of these links. Now I know why we were able to find decent Korean food in La Antigua Guatemala!

Readers: Adult

Published: 2003, 2012 (United States)

Leave a comment

Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, .Translation, Korean, Latin American

The Rent Collector by Camron Wright

Rent CollectorAllow me to begin with an intriguing tidbit and a cringe-inducing warning …

Thumbs up: The Rent Collector is a father’s novel inspired by his son’s documentary, River of Victory. Not only is the story based on the experiences of real-life family, even many of the names appear unchanged. If you choose the page, you’ll be rewarded at book’s end with a bonus section of photos that speak further volumes.

Thumbs stuck in the mud: If you go audible, get ready to practice your eyeball-rolling – Diane Dabczyniski narrates with supposed-to-sound-Asian accents. The thoughtless implication is that the characters are unable to fluently speak their own language! Ironically, she stumbles through the names of people and places in the one language that required accuracy, Khmer, the official language of Cambodia. The result is inexcusable – author Camron Wright even provides a “Pronunciation Guide” on his highly detailed website. Again, audible producers: accuracy can be but a speedy Google search away!

Welcome to Stung Meanchey, Cambodia’s largest garbage dump, located on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, the country’s capital. Sang Ly, her husband Ki Lim, and their baby Nisay, live in a hovel in the dump, surviving day-to-day from what they can salvage and sell. They regularly struggle to pay the bitter, alcoholic Sopeap Sin, the dump’s titular rent collector. They are short again this month, their rent money spent on treatments for the chronically sickly Nisay.

In the midst of her latest ranting demands, Sopeap notices a precious book on the hovel’s floor that Ki Lim recently rescued. The sight of the children’s story causes the most unexpected reaction from Sopeap, as she flees in shattered tears. Sang Ly realizes that Sopeap can read, and she strikes a deal with the angry old woman to teach her the same. Sang Ly is sure of one thing: literacy is the path out of poverty, and the only lasting way to save her young son.

That Wright had detailed access to his son’s documentary gives his novel an overall sense of authenticity, although the narrative is not without the occasional missteps that might remind the reader that Wright is not a young Cambodian mother trapped in a city of garbage: would a person of the dumps know about fanciest restaurants in France; would she ever think in terms of parenting awards? Inconsistencies aside, The Rent Collector is a sprawling story populated with tragic characters (a young girl whose brother is determined to sell her into prostitution), horrific history (the inhumanity of the Khmer Rouge), and grave uncertainty (the dumps are only growing). While the novel doesn’t quite rival the beloved literature that Sopeap reverently introduces to the hungry Sang Ly, Wright’s unembellished, straight-forward prose is a story well-told … a story of grace for a life redeemed, of gratitude for a few lives saved, and ultimately of unwavering hope for a better future.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2012

1 Comment

Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, Cambodian, Nonethnic-specific, Southeast Asian

The Caretaker by A.X. Ahmad

CaretakerFor you DC-area-locals who were wondering, debut novelist A.X. Ahmad is one of us … I tell you that, not to make stalking easy, but to share with you book group groupies that, according to Ahmad’s website, he just might be available to join your gathering “… if you live within driving distance of Washington, D.C.” Really, I’m just quoting!

Let me also say that should you decide to stalk … I mean request! … him at an upcoming meeting, your groupies will have much to discuss. Caretaker is full of Very Important Topics to deliberate and dissect, from post-9/11 profiling, to military cover-ups, itinerant illegal immigrant workers, racial and socioeconomic hierarchies, political elites, the Pakistan/India divide, the North Korean threat, not to mention the more mundane issues like infidelity, mental instability, and the overprivileged lives of the rich and famous – all reaching boiling point together in one blood-pressure cooker of a ride.

Ahmad’s peripatetic thriller moves back and forth between a disputed glacier border 20,000 feet up in the sky, down to an exclusive island getaway on the other side of the world. His protagonist is a former Sikh Indian Army Captain, Ranjit Singh, who is forced to flee his home country after a tragic military disaster, and eventually lands on the posh Martha’s Vineyard hoping to ride out the off-season with multiple caretaking jobs for owners of empty luxury homes.

Unable to afford to keep his family even in a disintegrating rental, Ranjit risks temporarily relocating to the waterfront estate of a Massachusetts Senator, just for a few days while he attempts to arrange alternative accommodations. The family’s plush enjoyment is interrupted when two men enter overnight, setting in motion a chain of runaway events from betrayal to deportation to murder. Guided by the ghost of a fellow Indian officer and assisted by a terminally ill American veteran, Ranjit’s survival depends on an antique doll, a computer-savvy relative-by-marriage, and an override alarm code of BLUESKY.

If you choose to be aurally thrilled, the inimitable Sam Dastor will keep you running for hours (almost 11, to be more accurate). Dastor’s previous suspenseful experiences – he also voices Delhi-based Tarquin Hall‘s fabulous Vish Puri series – expertly enhances Ahmad’s prose. Hopefully Dastor’s reading days are not fully committed; Ahmad’s website also reveals that Caretaker is the “first in a trilogy,” an enticing promise of more chills and thrills ahead.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2013

Leave a comment

Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, African American, Indian, Indian American, South Asian, South Asian American

Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil

NarcopolisWithout intending any disrespect to narrator Robertson Dean (in fact, his deep, rich voice makes for a memorable listen), this is a book you must see on the page. If you only go audible, you’ll miss you too much from the very first sentence onward: “Bombay, which obliterated its own history by changing its name and surgically altering its face, is the hero and heroin of this story …” – the italics I’ve added here should demonstrate why. Additionally, unless you were reading line by line, you would never realize that the “Prologue” is a single sentence which spans seven pages. You would miss the poetry (literally – Jeet Thayil published four poetry collections before this, his debut novel), the graphical rules of stanza rhyming, unexpected surreal line drawings, and more. You would, no doubt, have to settle for a far diminished experience, which would certainly seem an ironic shame for a novel infused with the maximum highs found in the drug-worshipping underworld of 1970s and ’80s Bombay.

Shortlisted in 2012 for both the Man Booker Prize and the Man Asian Literary PrizeNarcopolis begins and ends with “Bombay,” as word, destination, memory: “All I did was write it down, one word after the other, beginning and ending with the same one, Bombay.” The narrator Dom (whose full name won’t be revealed until book’s end) arrives in the legendary city, ousted from New York City following a drug arrest. Amidst Bombay’s opium dens – that soon give way to houses of heroin-worship – Dom introduces the unforgettable characters who populate his hallucinatory journey. His leading lady is an emasculated hijra prostitute named Dimple who becomes an object of obsession for ex-patriot poet and painter Newton Xavier. Beyond the brothel, Dimple’s closest relationship is with an elegant older Chinese addict, Mr. Lee, who escapes his native country during political purges only to long for return, even in death.

From the ancient Chinese explorer Zheng He, castrated as a boy and trained as an imperial eunuch, to an everyday businessman who thinks nothing of murdering a “housewife hooker” and remorselessly going home to his extended family, Dom proves to be a nimble guide, unblinkingly navigating hidden corners and revealing sordid details. He serves as witness to “those boys and girls and men and women who had been taken by garad heroin”; he is the self-appointed amanuensis who “say[s] the whole name and remember[s], that was the way to honor the dead.”

Thayil’s biography for the September 2013 internationales literaturfestival Berlin discloses that Narcopolis “refers back to Thayil’s own experiences with drug and alcohol addiction,” certainly raising questions about how much of his debut effort is autobiographical. Thayil also chooses to stay with the familiar in his current work-in-progress: he shares in a July 2012 South Asia Journal interview that the poet/painter Newton Xavier returns as the main character in his next novel, Saint X. If the best advice for writers is to write what they know, Thayil’s efforts are certainly evidence that doing so will reap just rewards.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2012

Leave a comment

Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, Indian, South Asian

The Servant by Fatima Sharafeddine, translated by Fatima Sharafeddine

ServantAt 15, Faten is uprooted from her village life to become a live-in servant to a wealthy family in Beirut, where violence from the ongoing Lebanese Civil War seems neverending. Her father’s decision to pull her out of school, to indenture her away from all that is familiar, is final; even Faten’s mother cannot undo his harsh verdict. For two years, Faten glimpses only her father once a month when he comes to Beirut to pick up her tiny salary. Her only city friend is an immigrant from Sierra Leone who also works as a servant in the same building, whom she is allowed to visit for a few hours on Sundays.

In spite of missing two years of high school, Faten decides  she must figure out a way to achieve her dream of becoming a nurse. She realizes that education is her only chance to escape a lifetime of servitude. The young man who lives in the next building, who she sees everyday from the balcony, might just be the outside help she needs. With the passing of a single note, she allows herself to hope for a different future.

Lebanese-born, peripatetically-domiciled picture book author Fatima Sharafeddine, twice nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (regarded as the international children’s book prize with a 5 million Swedish krona/$770,000 payout!), writes her first-ever title for young adults; she also translates her own work from Arabic to English.

While her focus in Servant is on Faten whose socioeconomic status clearly puts her at a disadvantage, Sharafeddine also draws compelling attention to the plight of girls and young women overall, regardless of a family’s net worth. In spite of her fancy school, designer clothes, and many friends, May, the older daughter in Faten’s employer’s family, lives in a gilded cage, on regular display for the perfect suitor who will ensure her future as a wife and mother before she has even finished her teenage years. In this girls’ world, privilege and poverty are not as contradictory as they might seem …

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2010, 2013 (Canada, United States)

2 Comments

Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Translation, Arab, Lebanese

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

And the Mountains EchoedBefore this novel, Khaled Hosseini‘s third, even hit shelves on May 21, the world had already made it a bestseller; many months – more likely years – will pass before it fades from the international spotlight. Although I had the galley for months before, I kept it tightly closed, glancing at it occasionally to savor its potential. But when I found the audible version has Hosseini himself narrating (he alternates chapters and characters with Iranian American actors Navid Negahban and Shohreh Aghdashlo), resistance disappeared. Having met Hosseini once before – the emphasis is on before, as in before he became a sensational phenomenon (you can read that story here) – hearing him voice his own words lulled me into finishing all too quickly.

Although more than a few weeks have passed, I delayed writing this post, silently paralyzed by the heavy burden of waiting for his next book. Four years elapsed between The Kite Runner (2003) and A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007; still my favorite of his three), then another six until Mountains appeared. If that progression holds, then we’re looking at eight long years, 2021 (!), for his next. Guess I’ll have to make sure my aging eyeballs and ringing ears are still functioning into the next decade!

Mountains is surely Hosseini’s most expansive story thus far. From a remote village in Afghanistan, his characters disperse around the world, to a comparatively cosmopolitan 1950s Kabul, to the literary lights of Paris, to the Greek island of Tinos, to the contemporary immigrant communities of Northern California. At the center of multiple generations of scattered family and related others are a brother and sister whose father decides that “‘the best’” for both children will be to live separate lives.

Abdullah “believed, the reason God had made him, [was] so he would be there to take care of Pari when He took away their mother.” Over the next half-century and more, he remains tightly bound to the memories of his lost sibling even as he ends up on the other side of the world. Pari, whose original family ties never had the chance to solidify, continues to search her heart for the elusive, unnamed presence that was once Abdullah. Around and between and overlapping these two unjustly separated souls, Hosseini creates an intimate landscape populated by an uncle with a dying wish, village sisters whose love for the same sweetheart traps one and saves the other, neighborhood boys who escape their war-torn homeland and their prodigal return, a talented surgeon who once longed to be a photographer and the single image seared into his heart, and so many more.

Readers and critics alike have lauded, cheered, extolled, and marveled over Mountains. I gladly confess to my own groupie admiration for Hosseini’s work: his writing has matured profoundly through this three novels, surely enriched in no small part by his experiences as a Goodwill Envoy to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) since 2006, which inspired him to establish his The Khaled Hosseini Foundation.

And yet … oh, that yet. From Kite to Suns to Mountains, I can’t seem to let go of a tiny seed of concern over what we might expect when his next title debuts (hopefully not too) far in the future. I wonder if that maturity might have come with an unexpected price. Mountains, for all its epic sweep, glows with a surprising sheen that wasn’t found in either Kite or Suns. The emotions that felt earnest and pure in Hosseini’s first two novels, seem to glow with a calculated (dare I say perfect?) patina in his latest – absent mothers and their replacements, lost lovers and their substitutes, damaged children and their substantial metamophoses. Regardless, I’m committed to whatever will come next bearing his name … until then, I remain devotedly resigned to wait (and wait and wait).

Tidbit: One of my most insightful BookDragon followers messaged me recently with “Has Hosseini become a savvy sentimentalist?” – that ‘savvy’ resonated with my own ‘sheen.’ He continued, “I also wondered if [Hosseini] had become the ‘Amy Tan’ of Afghan Americans.” In order not to bias that observation with any further personal elaboration, I invite (hope, plead, beg?) others to join in and comment.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2013

3 Comments

Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, Afghan, Afghan American

On Sal Mal Lane by Ru Freeman + Author Interview

On Sal Mal LaneAllow me to start with the simple end: Ru Freeman‘s On Sal Mal Lane is stupendous. I’ll even embellish that verdict and add that it is actually fan-huththa-tastic... the tmetic meaning of which should encourage you to go get your own copy and check the “glossary” at book’s end. You’ll surely find some choice vocabulary there to aptly describe your own reading experience.

As in Freeman’s absorbing 2009 debut, A Disobedient Girl, the intricate lives of young children take center stage in On Sal Mal Lane. In 1979, the titular Sal Mal Lane is a small cul-de-sac on the outskirts of Sri Lanka’s largest city and former capital, Colombo; in spite of the diverse households, the residents live in relative peace. If they are not exactly friendly, then they certainly live as tolerant neighbors one and all. The Herath family of two parents, four young children – Suren the musician, Rashmi the singer, Nihil the cricketer, and baby Devi the favored – and their servant move into the quiet enclave, reshuffling friendships and alliances throughout the lane.

The Heraths are educated and cultured, and their four children, whose ages range from 7-and-a-half-year-old Devi to 12-year-old Suren, “were different from all the others who had come and stayed for a while on Sal Mal Lane.” In addition to each being neat and clean, well-mannered and talented, their devotion to one another – “the way they stood together even when they were apart … every word uttered, every challenge made, every secret kept, together” – is a gift to behold.

Even as the Heraths’ lives intertwine with that of their neighbors, beyond the safety of their small street, the rest of the country is at an impasse. Ethnic, religious, and political differences among a population with a long history of divisions, colonizations, and suppressions foment through the years, leading up to a coming civil war that will break out in 1983 and last over a quarter-century. “Everyone who lived on Sal Mal Lane was implicated in what happened … the Tamil Catholics and Hindus, the Burgher Catholics, the Muslims, and the Sinhalese, both Catholic and Buddhist. Their lives were unfolding against a backdrop of conflict that would span decades … And while this story is about small people, we must consider the fact that their history is long and accord them, too, a story equal to their past.”

Freeman surely doesn’t disappoint. As she unwinds what happened – with prose both lingering and breathtaking – the children, even the lane’s bully who could have been different with just the occasional kindness, will charm you, tease you, play with you, and when they leave you, they’ll shatter your heart. “To tell a story about divergent lives, the storyteller must be everything and nothing,” Freeman’s prologue concludes. “If at times you detect some subtle preferences, an undeserved generosity toward someone, a boy child, perhaps, or an old man, forgive me. It is far easier to be everything and nothing than it is to conceal love.”

What possessed you to write this novel? How did it come about?
First, I had been a little down about a magazine piece that did not work out. [The article] had to do with the end of the war [the Sri Lankan Civil War – July 23, 1983, to May 18, 2009], and the editor wanted a very pared-down story with easily identifiable villains and saints. I wanted to write a more nuanced story. Second, I didn’t set out to write this novel, in particular. I was just dabbling with this and that, sketching out some anecdotal bits about growing up down a lane like this one. It was one of my brothers, Malinda, who nudged me down this road. He started chatting back with me – via Google Chat – reminiscing about that time and there it was – the novel I wanted to write. This story that was the one I had been trying to put into that magazine article, the one that was not easy but faceted and brittle and gentle and layered. [... click here for more]

Author interview: “Feature: An Interview with Ru Freeman,” Bookslut.com, May 2013

Readers: Adult

Published: 2013

1 Comment

Filed under ...Absolute Favorites, ...Author Interview/Profile, ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, South Asian, South Asian American, Sri Lankan, Sri Lankan American

Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw

Five Star Billionaire* STARRED REVIEW
Think of Tash Aw‘s third novel as an ingenious game called “How To Be a Billionaire.” A how-to guide is interspersed with 30 rules that also serve as chapters, e.g., “Move to Where the Money Is,” “Always Rebound After Each Failure,” “Strive To Understand the Big Picture.” The playing board is Shanghai, that 21st-century city of limitless possibility; the power broker is the eponymous Five Star Billionaire. A quartet of players – all Malaysian immigrants – are revealed one by one: country girl Phoebe, real estate heir Justin, pop superstar Gary, and businesswoman Yinghui, who is about to multiply her success. Aw moves fluidly between past and present, creating a multilayered narrative about chasing, catching, and sometimes losing elusive opportunities.

Verdict: London-based Aw, who spent a year in Shanghai on a writing fellowship, has honed his experiences into a literary victory. Admirers of Aw’s The Harmony Silk Factory, which won a Whitbread Book Award (renamed the Costa Book Awards in 2006) and a Commonwealth Prize and was long-listed for the Man Booker, and Map of the Invisible World will clamor to read this, his best thus far. Fiction aficionados with international tastes will surely fall in line as well.

Review: “Fiction,” Library Journal, April 15, 2013

Readers: Adult

Published: 2013

Leave a comment

Filed under Chinese, .Fiction, ..Adult Readers, Malaysian, British Asian, Southeast Asian

Between the Assassinations by Aravind Adiga

Between the AssassinationsFor fans of Aravind Adiga‘s unforgettable 2008 Booker Prized first novel, The White Tiger, who were perhaps not as enthralled with his 2011 follow-up, Last Man in Tower, might I suggest you look backward a few more years to his very first book? Introduced to eager readers just after Adiga’s Booker win, Between the Assassinations was actually written before Tiger in spite of getting to the presses a little later.

With intriguing cleverness, Assassinations is an interlinked short story collection, presented as something like a tourist guide, introduced with a town map and a note, “Arriving in Kittur.” Located between Goa and Calicut on India’s southwestern coast, the three months following the monsoon season which ends in September “are the best time to visit Kittur. Given the town’s richness of history and scenic beauty, and diversity of religion, race, and language, a minimum stay of a week is recommended,” the guide advises.

That seven-day set-up which Adiga used with such success in The White Tiger, works equally well here. Presented as a ‘what-to-do’ schedule during seven days and nights in Kittur, Adiga embellishes each suggested go-to location with a related narrative. On arriving the first day into the railway station, Adiga offers the story of a young Muslim boy who initially works in a nearby “tea-and-samosa place” and moves from job to job – for awhile counting all the incoming and outgoing trains for a seemingly fancy stranger – unsure of his coming future.

On Day Two, you might go to Lighthouse Hill and see what happens when a bookseller who’s already been arrested 21 times for offering illegally photocopied books begins to sell Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. In the evening, you might visit the Market and Maidan, and meet Keshava who came from a small village two years ago, only to learn how disposable human life can be in a big city. On Day Four, Umbrella Street – Kittur’s commercial center – will introduce you to Chenayya who is not so young, who needs all his energy to deliver furniture throughout the city. On Day Five while you stroll by the Cathedral of Our Lady of Valencia, you might meet George who is convinced a “princess” will save him from a life of drudgery. On Day Seven at the Salt Market Village, perhaps you’ll see Murali, who at 55, might be coming to the realization that he has wasted his privileged life for an uncompromising cause when what he really longs for is a family of his own.

Populating streets, buildings, and neighborhoods with an array of characters with multiple stories – hopeful and bittersweet both – Adiga presents a multi-dimensional view of a bustling town on the verge of drastic change, caught at the crossroads of inescapable backgrounds and fresh new ideas. If you choose to visit Kittur aurally, rest assured that narrator Harsh Nayyar literally breathes life into Adiga’s workers and dreamers, politicians and escapists, students and fathers. Go ahead, take the trip – travel couldn’t be easier: by book or by iPod, Kittur awaits.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2009

2 Comments

Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, .Short Stories, British Asian, Indian