Monday, September 13, 2010

Tishani Doshi's "The Pleasure Seekers"

September 2010
320 pp
Bloomsbury USA
From 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.


Suko said...

Greetings, I am here because your blog was recommended on the blog Everything Distills into Reading. I really like the large book covers you feature in your posts, as well as your clear writing style.

Lotus Reads said...

Suko, thank you!!! I had no idea Gautami had posted such a lovely tribute...what a lovely surprise and I'm only too thrilled to make new friends and to welcome new readers. Thank you for the kind words on my blog...I'm glad you like the large images but the sidebar needs a little work. (If Gautami had warned me she was about to do this, I would have spruced up my blog a little!) ;-)

apu said...

That review came as a bit of a surprise to me actually! I was fully expecting to read a glowing review, considering that the press here has been quite upbeat about the book... but yes, perhaps it's getting harder for writers to milk the Indian diaspora :)

Birdy said...

Sounds like a good read that would be nice to turn to if you are sitting in on a rainy day with nothing to do... Ah and the Indian caricatures! Our Bollywood cinema never gets tired of them, so I guess poor books can resort to them once in a while :D

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

nice objective review. Recently I read a story about identity and where one could call home by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond titled 'Powder Necklace', a YA novel. Is this her first book? Perhaps, that might be the reason for the numerous cliches.

Lotus Reads said...

Hey Apu! I think you're spot on...the book wasn't bad, it's just that the theme is a very tired one and unless you can shake it up a little or write with such prowess that it turns the reader into one big puddle of drool, I don't think the immigrant theme is likely to woo a reader that much anymore. Don't know, just my opinion.

Lotus Reads said...

Hey Birdy! You're dead right about Bollywood and sure,they (stereotypes) thrive in books too (remember the Harlequin and M@B romances...all the guys were tall dark,handsome (and rich!):))) Somehow, you expect people like Doshi and others with that kind of literary pedigree to write stories which somehow rise above the regular stereotypes and cliches! ;)

Lotus Reads said...

Hey Nana, lovely to see you here again! How would you rate "The Powder Necklace" ? I love the title! Yes, this is Doshi's first novel and I don't want to be too hard on her, but really, I was expecting more.

Stefania said...

I've also read "The Pleasure Seekers" (in Italian) after the author came to a couple of literary festivals in Italy. I also expected something more and I had some deja-vus of other books about identity, but I agree that the book is a pleasant read. Tishani Doshi is a very beautiful girl and here in Italy a couple of newspapers hinted that she simply can't be a good writer or a good poet becuase she's beautiful. I honestly found her writing a lot better than many other people who sell more books. Apart from the poetry of certain passages, I liked the descriptions of the two sisters and of family life. They felt true to me.

Leela Soma said...

I am getting the book this weekend. I read all the glowing reviews in the broadsheet press here one even saying Doshi's writing is better than Arundathi Roy! Like you being Chennai-born, I am looking forward to the book.
I love your word 'cutsie' in the review. I'll comment after reading it.

Lotus Reads said...

Hi Stefania! Yes, I had heard that the author had a very successful book launch in Italy and that the Italians were devouring the book! :) Regarding her looks, your comment made me smile!

Why is it so many of us expect writers to look like pleasant old ladies with just cats and their laptops for company? :))) Jhumpa Lahiri, Chimananda Adichie and so many others are beauties with a flair for writing! :)

Yes, Doshi's writing is good...I'd be interested in reading her next novel, provided ofcourse she chooses a different theme. :)

Thanks bunches for your comment Stefania, it's always fun to talk with you!

Lotus Reads said...

Hi Leeeeela! :)

Yes, I know, I read some of the reviews and glowing would be the right word to describe them! I am a little disappointed I didn't like the book as much as they promised me I would. Did I miss something that every other reader got?

Leela, I am so relieved you are going to be reading the book too...I really want to hear your impressions.

Reg. Madras...I felt like Doshi could have done more to bring out the vibrancy and elegance of the city, but she made some nice observations on Madras and in general I was quite satisfied.

Cannot wait to hear what you think!

p.s. I must be the only person in the world who hasn't read Arundathi Roy so I cannot comment on the comparison! lol

verma said...

umm... thats just wow cuz i really don't ever see indian people soooo talented and the grace of a writing. i am not sayin bad about being indian i am one too but i mean i like the way you wrote it. great job dude

Leela Soma said...

"her breezily satirical take on cross cultural tensions and ironies keep the book on the literary end of the summer reads..! - Guardian " A luminous comedy of four generations of Patels..'
Did I miss something? What can I say Angie? Like you I read the book with avid interest and failed to find these glowing attributes in the novel. Her poetic prose like gems interspersed in the book were very good.The 'cutsie' use of the 'Hinglish' words like 'jhill mill' teeth did not quite work. Too many characters vied for our attention. The places in Madras, Sterling Road(so close to my school), Rutland Gate, Gymkhana Club, Balaji Stores brought a lot of memories back. As for the novel that is told in three parts I felt that maybe she packed too much in. Part three I felt was the weakest and introducing new characters like Ignatius at the end of the book was almost like an afterthought. On the whole a pleasant read but I am a bit disappointed as I expected a new young talent to match Roy or Adichie.

Lotus Reads said...

Leela, thank you, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts! You know, I probably read the same reviews you did and was expecting it to be a top-notch read, so, naturally one feels a little let down at the end of the novel.

You are so right about her trying to pack too much into this story. I thought the first part was the strongest, but true, the last part was a little tedious...I felt it dragged a little and I had little or no interest in Bean (as a character the girl simply failed to engage me.) Ignatious was whom I was thinking of when I said there were characters she introduced and then just let fade away. His life might have made for interesting reading had she developed the story around him a little more.

Susan A said...

Hi Angie, at long last, I got here. I think I did glance at your blog in London. A very nice review. You echo my sentiments especially with the observation on 'cliches' and other stereotyped sentiments, often portrayed in diasporic Indian fiction. Maybe the book should have been titled 'The Pleasant Seekers' as I too feel the same about the adjective you chose. :-) X

Lotus Reads said...

Boy, am I pleased to have your feedback as well Suse! Hhahaha, yes, "The Pleasant Seekers", that is clever! If you see Doshi, do let her know it's what we affectionately now refer to her book as! :))) It worries me to see The Guardian and a whole host of other newspaper critics make so much of a mediocre read. I keep asking myself if I missed something in this supposedly brilliant novel or if these critics got a copy that was somehow different from the one you, me and Leela read?

Anonymous said...

Lotus Reads: You are spot on. This book was a waste of money. (Although I returned it and got my money back!)

No plot, no character development, there's in fact nothing in this book but a failed attempt to sound like Rushdie. This is the sort of book that makes you want to give up reading.

But, since I'm not a reviewer, I'll let these reviews speak for me:

From 'Outlook' magazine:

From 'Tehelka' magazine:

From 'India Today magazine':

From 'Time Out' magazine:


vaitheetheboss said...

Nice Information thanks

Lotus Reads said...

Hi Alansha! You were smart to return the book, lol! I loaned my copy to a friend and after she reads it, I'm not sure she'll want to be my friend anymore!!! ;)))

Thanks a million for sending me those links! The Indian reviewers sure got it right! Here are few snippets from the reviews that I absolutely loved:

From Time Out:

"On every other page, these combine into some haphazard phrase, as when Babo and Siân’s separation is “six months of aching stretched out like the Sahara: lickety-split, snippety-snip, jiggety-jig”. A kind of onomatopoeic Tourette’s Syndrome keeps bombing the narrative with zing-zings and boom-booms;"

And then, from Tehelka:

Doshi writes like a phoren ma’m delighted at her grasp of exotic India: a young girl on the back of her father’s bicycle is “a princess being guided by a troubadour”; things like Lord Mahavir and Navratri festival are helpfully explained; teeth are “jhil mill” and voices are “hullabulla”

And finally, from "Outlook":

"the novel as a whole seems to have been assembled in a prolonged fit of inattention"


That says it all!
Thank you again Alansha.

Bhaswati said...

Thanks for this candid review, Lotus. Makes one wonder what makes a book like this draw such attention? The cliches of Indian caricatures, the same hackneyed diaspora theme, and attempted novelty in language using phrases like the ones you quoted--frivolous and unimaginative to me. And yet, the book and its author hog the limelight in media and lit festivals. What gives?

Stefania said...

I read the novel in Italian, so I missed all the language- related things (they would have sounded in a different way in the mouth of an Italian).

Here in Italy she had an excellent back-up by her publishers and maybe she just wants to travel and promote her book (like a rockstar I would say). She was in 3 important festivals at least and it's clear that they translated her book instead of many other better books for her looks. Italy it's the kind of country where if a woman writer presents a book on television the camera focuses on her tits all the time.

Lotus Reads said...

Hi Bhaswati! I am just as mystified as you are regarding the hype/interest over Doshi's book and the author herself. Makes me wonder if the publishing industry is allowing themselves to be swayed by a pretty face?

Lotus Reads said...

Stefania, your comments and especially your observations on the Italian media always make me smile! While the Indian newspaper and magazine critics were quick to point out Doshi's shortcomings in this, her first attempt at fiction, the people organising the various Lit Fests around town seem to want to sign her up for every single one. Seems to me they are quite smitten! :)

Anonymous said...

What a fantastic Blog...where has it been all my life!!

The first time I saw Tishani Doshi, she was dancing or rather she was stretching in what is deemed to be Indian contemporary dance. The Gundecha Brothers were the reason I went for the performance however the choreography and performance were both excruciatingly pretentious and long winded which ultimately had me walking out of the hall quite boldly as most of the hall had already left by then.

More recently I saw her 20 feet away at the NYPL and this time I wanted to see Sir Salman Rushdie. One thing is a certain she is stunning and I couldn't get my eyes off her nor could he!! Going back to the interview it was entirely coaxed by Rushdie who is always delightful and kept the crowd enthralled.

However, like the rest of the audience I too walked out rather confused as to why this lass who received the mildest applause again coaxed by Rushdie for the most mediocre poetry and even more appalling oration I had heard in my life was creating such a tizzy what gave her the right to be on stage with the Great Rushdie. Her knowledge is wafer thin and I think Rushdie was smart to step in at varied points in the Interview and educate the audience. For example when they were speaking about the change of the city names like Bombay has become Mumbai and Madras/ Chennai she was convinced that progress and modernisation and the name the name had killed the many great artists in the city along with her mentor who almost killed us during that performance. I was appalled by her attitude almost a semi colonial spirit.

Anonymous said...


Rather Chennai like all Indian cities is overpopulated but perhaps the most progressive city in India. India as a whole has such brilliant people across the length and breath of the country their artistic talent along with the brains makes the mind boggle what this country could do if they work together. Going back to Artistic people in Chennai, the chief minister equivalent to a Governor in a US state is a renowned and award winning Poet, a scriptwriter and a bloody good one, so is his daughter. Globally AR Rahman is a name the whole world has heard of he is a musician a singer who has done plays at London's west end and most recently won the Oscars, Grammys, Baftas and the Golden Globe Awards for Slumdog Millionaire. Ms Doshi is Delusional.

So when I came across your blog I might have said here is a group of jealous girls having a major nag but it doesn't end here I read the book too. I said lets give that beautiful vixen another chance and borrowed my friends signed copy.

I think all of us on this page know about the story of the Pleasure Seekers by now but here is an author who has spent 6 years writing a book there is no doubt she writes a neat line but her flaw again her wafer thin knowledge not just in regards to her characters but in understanding the small percentage of readers in the world know a story when it is retold. The reader never has a problem with a new story transformed into something new but rather to peg it a few steps lower is frightful and one still manages an interview with Rushdie something is just not right here. I distinctly remember her saying she stole ideas from people and stories for her book but she has definitely stolen ideas from some of the best writers and books in the world too and who is to put this author to task. Especially when her two main protagonists Ba and Been reminded me of Saleem in Salman Rushdie's booker of bookers Midnight's Children who is endorsing this monstrosity. Appalling.

Is this the new wave of literature, is networking what will determine the great author, is little knowledge and a wafer thin understanding of literature and the world ensure global success I would hope not. Personally, Tishani Doshi's downfall is not that she is beautiful but rather she knows she is beautiful and whats more she thinks it is sufficient for the actual reader to be enthralled by that and not by the story. which there was none of.

Mr Not so Enthralled Anymore rather Appalled

Anonymous said...

Your welcome for the links Lotus,

Mr Not so enthralled seems to have had an overdose of her creative talents;-)

One of my friends refused to listen to me when I told her to buy Saraswathi Park by Anjali Joseph instead of Tishani Doshi's Pleasure Seekers.

Surprisingly sent me this link when she went to order the book on Amazon and bought Saraswati Park instead because of this review!!

The Pinching Pleasures
1.0 out of 5 stars The Pinching Pleasures, 22 Sep 2010
By Book Maniac (New York) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Pleasure Seekers (Hardcover)
Never mind the absence of a plot, the endless cliches, and the pat endings. (Some characters enter the story for no other reason than to fill a page, and then disappear entirely).
What made this book stand out for me was the startling similarities in plot, style and use of quotes that the author has helped herself to from a variety of literary giants and bloggers is shocking. One example is the phrase "sometimes summers" which was coined by Richard Wilbur, twice Pulitzer Prize winner, in his poem "Praise in Summer". ("Obscurely yet most surely called to praise, As sometimes summer calls us all, I said"). Another phrase "sha-bing sha-bang" was taken from a less relevant source, a blog: "Some girls are a "boom shock-a-locka boom", some are a "wosh wosh wiggle" and others a "sha bing sha bang." This book requires a second read for its illicit content. it is more befitting to place the Pinching Pleasures of the author in the esteemed company of Kavya Vishwanathan and Milli Vanilli.

Lotus, like Mr NSEArA says how is this author getting away with this if so many of us are able to connect books and passages and quotes?

S. Krishna said...

I reviewed The Pleasure Seekers as well and enjoyed it more than you did. Someone left me a comment on my blog saying I should check out other, negative reviews of the book, including yours, implying that my opinion on the book was wrong. Your review is the first I am looking at, and funnily enough it's not that negative! I understand you didn't love it and can see your reasoning upon reflecting (though I still maintain I enjoyed it), but I just thought that was amusing.

Anyways, I'm not sure how your blog wasn't on my radar screen before, but it is now. I'm definitely subscribing and will look forward to future reviews!

Lotus Reads said...

@Mr. Not So Enthralled ~ Wish you had left your's always hard to address a comment when the writer is Anon. Thanks for your input anyway.

Lotus Reads said...

Hi Alansna ~ Sound review! Book Maniac was smart to pick up on the origins of "sometimes summers" coined by Richard Wilbur...I had no clue! I notice she has posted this review to No comeback from the author?

S. Krishna said...

I can understand that, especially since the novel didn't work nearly as well for you as it did for me! I guess I just don't understand why I need to seek out negative reviews, just because I enjoyed something that the mainstream Indian media didn't, hence why I was amused/confused.

And yes, please call me Swapna! :-)

Lotus Reads said...

Welcome S. Krishna, but can I call you Swapna? :) Nice of you to stop by. I think, perhaps, Leela wanted to direct you to the host of negative reviews that her (Tishani's) book has garnered in the Indian press (the links are contained within the comments section of this post).

I didn't care too much for the novel at all, but it's a book and the matter is subjective and we(I am sure I can speak for Leela too) certainly respect the fact that there will be wildly differing opinions.

I just couldn't get over Rushdie's gushing blurb and all the lit fests that she's been invited to attend. I am just questioning if her writing justified all the hype. That's all.

Lotus Reads said...

Sorry my response/comment is not in sequence...I deleted it to correct a typo but it has has been reinstated now! :)

Anonymous said...

No comment from the author. However, there is a comment from a Jersey Bean.

Jersey Bean says:
Why can't an author use a fun expression like sha bing sha bang just because it has been printed somewhere before, I have read expressions like slap and tickle etc many times, someone must have been the first but if you think it's appropriate to your story why not? Am I missing the point?

Isn't it ironic that the protagonist is called Bean too? What does this mean or am I reading too much into nothing?


Lotus Reads said...

Oh, you conspiracy theorist you! :)))

I guess Jersey Bean is right, but so is Book Maniac - heck we are all right!!!

Alansha, you've got to get a blog so we can discuss books we read....hurry, make it happen soon!

Anonymous said...

Me No way Hardly have the time to pee!!

writing a blog is a whole different story requires so much discipline. Think I will stick to reading and commenting...will leave blogs to the experts like yourself;-)


Anonymous said...

Hi S. Krishna

I read your review of the book and then I read Lotus Reads'.
What I would like to say is - It is not as simple as 'I like it' or 'Not like it.'
There's got to be more. Something deeper. Come on.

Is that the same problem with Tishani Doshi's book?

I think so.