Manual For A Decent Life by Kavita A. Jindal

Waheeda is an independent, middle-class, Muslim woman living in Delhi with her young daughter. She is an academic and her husband is a painter, living in the countryside, ostensibly but not entirely for his art. Though her situation with her husband isn’t ideal, mostly her life is simple, free from scrutiny, untouched by the politics of her step-father’s world.

Her step-father is the head of a small political party in Uttar Pradesh, the Nulkazim Peace Forum. 

Until the untimely death of her step-brothers, both killed in a train accident that looks anything but accidental, Waheeda has always steered clear of what she considers the mess of Indian politics. But her brothers’ deaths change everything.

Suddenly, she is all the family has left and her desire to enhance the lives of local girls, to get them and keep them in education, propels her into the political sphere. No longer can she lead a life free of scrutiny. None of her choices must be questionable. Her marriage, her appearance, everything is now open to judgement.

In the middle of all this change she meets Monish, the son of a business tycoon. A one time playboy, a Hindu whose family money is not entirely clean, Monish and Waheeda would seem opposites and yet, of course, they find themselves inextricably drawn to each other and into a painful alternative life of subterfuge that threatens to destroy both of their lives.

I can’t say where the book goes because that would spoil what was, for me, a surprising and painful ending. Without saying more, the novel is a thorough exploration of middle-class society life – of how business and politics are conducted, of how good intentions often run foul of old allegiances, promises, and blackmail. 

This is a love story with a very dark heart.

I was particularly fond of, and impressed by, the wider set of characters each playing their parts in the overarching narrative. Waheeda’s friends and family feel very real. We are forced to contemplate the extent to which we are all prepared to risk not only our careers and social standing, but our family and friends simply to fulfil desire.

Winner of The Brighthorse Prize for the novel, I’m sure Kavita A. Jindal will go on to write many more novels that shine a new light into modern, middle-class, Indian life. I look forward to reading them.

Next, I’ll be reviewing The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett.

A Dinner Party in The Home Counties by Reshma Ruia

Reshma Ruia’s poems often tell stories of significant moments, shine light on the little things that prize open people’s sense of security or identity: the exhaustion of family life (‘The Beginning’); the lazy, seemingly good-natured stereotyping of people with different heritages (the title poem); how a failure in pronunciation, or effort, to say an unusual name creates a whole new person severed from their old self (‘In Which Mrs XU Becomes a Sally’); memories of partition (‘1947’); deportation (‘Mrs Basu Leaves Town’) and so it goes on. Here are people contemplating or sitting at critical moments in their lives, who often struggle to definitively claim one geographic identity. In some ways this exploration of race and cultural confusion is at the heart of Reshma Ruia’s work, but there are other themes of identity at play. What it means to be on a journey to becoming a mother (‘Egg’), or the complexities of the maternal relationship (‘Biography’) where a child must 

Hold on tight my love, she says.

A gentle nudge is all it’ll take.

Away we’ll go, spilling and spluttering,

desires and dreams drip-dripping fast

through tightly shut fists.

But then the mother throws them in the air herself and folds her arms as she watches her child fall.  Continue reading

Apeirogon by Colum McCann

Apeirogon isn’t a book you can read lightly. This isn’t a reflection upon its style, which is clear, eloquent, at times haunting, but instead upon the subject matter. I feel I’ve been reading a lot of books recently that play with the idea of what a novel is, that dance over the line of fact and fiction. Apeirogon is one of those books. Continue reading

Motherhood by Sheila Heti

Motherhood is one of those books that will enthral some and, perhaps enticed in by glowing reviews, dispel others. It mixes a sharp intelligence with a reliance on a less complex I Ching style dice rolling for critical enquiry. It easily slips into the self-absorbed misogynies about women and their hysteria, and yet, it remains compelling and most importantly, honest. For there is no point in attempting to explore the pressures for women to become mothers and all the societal gesturing, comparisons and petty rivalries that go with it, without being honest about how much time can go into the exploration. And for that, Motherhood must be commended.  Continue reading