Saturday, January 14, 2006

If Bedspreads could speak...

Whenever I struggle to describe a reading experience, I find it helpful to compare it with food. Bizarre, I know, but it helps!

For instance, a nice, quick and easy read that takes about a day or so, could be described as a refreshing, long gulp of iced lemonade in the middle of summer. I see "Almost French"
or even, "Fried Eggs with Chopsticks" fitting comfortably in that category.

Then there are those books that go down smoothly, like rich, melted Belgian chocolate, filling you with endorphins - the experience is so pleasurable, you never want it to end---I would nominate "Memoirs of a Geisha" for the "melted chocolate" honor.

There are those books that are special, like your mom's Sunday dinner---they are the Roast Beef, Baked Ham, or Chicken Vindaloo (what I would have in my home) of the food world. These books often satisfy emotionally and fill you up. "The Kite Runner" and "Snowflower and the Secret Fan" would qualify for these "Sunday Specials".

And then there are those exotic treats, the ones you try when you are feeling a little adventurous, like the Turkish Delight or the Tibetan Yak Butter Tea. You have no clue how you are going to feel after you try it, but you can't help yourself! Sometimes, the experience is so good you make a regular practice of trying it and at other times, you wish you hadn't bothered. The book I am about to review would fit perfectly in this category.

It's been written by first time author, Raj Kamal Jha and takes place in the busy, dirty, crowded city of Calcutta (famous for the Mother Theresa "Home for the Destitute). In a nutshell, it involves a nameless narrator who has custody of his dead sister's infant girl for a single night, and he spends that night writing her stories about her family, so that when she is adopted, no matter where in the world she goes, no matter who her new family is, she will always know of her origins and her history. While he writes, the baby is fast asleep in the next room on the blue bedspread that the narrator and his sister used when they were young. The blue bedspread has been privvy to many an event in the narrator's life - it is the silent voyeur.

The prose is very lyrical, but in a stark, bare kind of way, or so it seems to me. The book revolves around the theme of family relationships, but in a slightly bizarre and oddly disturbing fashion. If there was just a single word to describe this book, I would choose "unsettling". However, usettling isn't always bad. I personally didn't care very much for the book, but Jha has had some very favorable reviews from people far more knowledgable than myself, so, it can't be all bad.