Bloomsbury USAFrom the Publishers:
Meet the Patel-Joneses—Babo, Sian, Mayuri, and Bean—in their little house with orange and black gates next door to the Punjab Women's Association in Madras. Babo grew up here, but he and Sian, his cream-skinned Welsh love, met in London. Babo's parents disapproved. And then they disapproved unless the couple moved back to Madras. So here they are. And as the twentieth century creaks and croaks its way along, Babo, Sian, and the children navigate their way through the uncharted territory of a "hybrid" family: the hustle and bustle of Babo's relatives; the faraway phone-line crackle of Sian's; the eternal wisdom and soft bosom of Great-Grandmother Ba; the perils of first love, lost innocence, and old age; and the big question: What do you do with the space your loved ones leave behind?
I have been waiting to read Tishani Doshi's "The Pleasure Seekers" ever since it first came out and now that I've read it, I would love to be able to wax poetic about it, I'd love to be able to tell you to rush out and pick up a copy, but sadly, the book did not live up to the publishers' message, nor did it live up to Salman Rushdie's gushing blurb on the front cover. I wouldn't call it a bad book, no, far from it, it's just a pleasant read...nothing to get excited over and definitely nothing to write home about.
You may ask me why I was so excited to read this book...well, it's a book set in Chennai (one of the places I have lived in) and focuses on a large Gujarati family. Those of you who know me well know that even though I am a Punjabi by birth, culturally I am a Gujarati because I grew up amongst them. Also, Babo, one of the sons in this large family marries a Welsh girl (Sian) who comes to live with him and his family in Chennai and I was very curious to see how this interfaith, interracial marriage plays out in the book (incidentally, Doshi has a Gujarati father and a Welsh mother and has called her book "a love letter to my parents")
This is a novel about family and about home, or more precisely it asks the question, where is home? It is also about identity, love across the seas,displacement, family bonds and so on. I guess these are all themes that have been used often in Indian immigrant stories and it could be one of the many reasons the story didn't quite worm its way into my heart.
The prose is flawless, but a little too "cutsie" for me in parts. Intercourse is referred to as "shabang shibing" and sex is described as as a boy putting his “Whatsit” into a girl’s “Ms Sunshine”! Fortunately for the reader however, Doshi is a poet, so every now and again we are treated to bursts of poetry in the writing, but despite those sunshiney bursts of poetry I found the narrative structure too ordinary and the characters, pleasant, but cozy caricatures at best. Also, in the first half, you are given a tour of almost everyone in Prem Kumar's family (he's the patriarch), and then in the second half, Doshi seems to dismiss most of them as she settles down to only Babo's story along with his Welsh wife,his younger daughter Bean and Ba - Babo's esoteric grandmother who “smells” people approaching her house “from over the hills” - . Ofcourse, that doesn't take away from the novel being a good read, just that some characters seemed to show promise and then they were dismissed.
And then, there's this unpardonable sin of using oh too many cliches - especially the caricatures of Indians abroad and a reliance on stock cultural jokes and scenarios. But aside from these quibbles I've listed "The Pleasure Seekers" is a pleasant enough read - not memorable by any means - but a nice diversion.