Winner of the Booker prize 2006. This might have warned me off, I remember Salman Rushdie winning the Booker of Bookers for Midnight Children, many critics were contacted to comment and said he was thoroughly deserving of the accolade but when they were asked about the novel, the vast majority couldn’t remember anything about it. Ms Desai writes beautifully. There are some wonderful vignettes and some sharp analysis of the political situation of the Nepalis in Northern India. Unfortunately, as with the novels of Mr Rushdie, the plot is thin like the air in the Himalayan foothills.
Trouble is brewing in Kalimpong for retired judge, Jemubhai Patel. He lives in a crumbling house at the foot of Mount Kanchenjunga with his ageing cook and Mutt a dog too friendly to guard. The story starts when some local hoodlums attached to the Gorkha Liberation Movement, raid the judge’s house stealing his rusty guns and forcing the cook to feed them.
The theme of the conflicting Indian identities in post-colonial India and in the United States was really interesting and supported with well-developed characters but there wasn’t a strong story to hold the novel together.
One of the principal characters is Sai, an isolated teenager who was orphaned when her parents died in the USSR, while she was at boarding school. Sent to live with Jemubhai Patel, her closest relative, in the dilapidated yet fairytale house, she walks on eggshells around him, too afraid to beg for his love, and ends up being raised by the cook. He, in turn, projects all of his affection on Sai since his own son, Biju, is in New York, an illegal, struggling and ultimately failing to make a life there.
Biju at the Baby Bistro. Above the restaurant was French, but below in the kitchen it was Mexican and Indian. And, when a Paki was hired, it was Mexican, Indian and Pakistani.
In the local library they had The Far Pavilions and the Raj Quartet … but they didn’t like English writers writing about India.
In the end this book wasn’t really my cup of Darjeeling.