Although this was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, I couldn’t quite see where this was going or the point of it all. I kept expecting things to happen or the narrative to take a coherent form or the characters to develop more and I encountered nothing like this. I came away from it feeling somehow unsatisfied.
That is partly illustrated by the fact that, as I write this post, I’m not entirely sure how to summarise what I’ve read. This is the story of siblings in an Indian family containing episodes both of their childhood but also views of that childhood from their perspectives as adults provoked by the return of one sister from overseas as she visits.
While the lengthy and helpful Wikipedia entry states that this is a post-partition novel, I’d disagree. While the bulk of the narrative takes place post-partition, the foundation for their memories is in fact set prior to the nation’s independence.
This is important and something that I feel isn’t fully explored in the novel. The impending crisis is briefly portrayed in a flashback to India of the late 1940s. Both partition and the assassination of Ghandi are seen through the eyes of the children and the impact it has on their relationships and psychologies.
It’s this that I think Desai could have made much, much more of. It was something that her daughter, Kiran Desai, used very successfully as a vehicle for her powerful Booker-winner The Inheritance of Loss. Head to that and skip this.