There are these books that come once in a while which appeal to you because of the blurb and the title. This is one, but it appealed to me because the blurb made the book more mysterious, than shed light on what lay ahead. A variety of characters, seemingly independent of each other’s stories, weaving in and out through the book; how can their disconnected lives be connected, I wondered. And that’s what Anuradha Roy does through this book. She connects them in a way I couldn’t quite have expected.
It starts out innocuously, the tale of siblings, a family with a simple life. But then, that life gets turned on its head almost immediately. War, or is it? I don’t know. The little girl, who we later come to know as Nomi, loses her family and ends up as refugee at an ashram. Fast-forward many years, and we see Nomi return to that place. But how did she leave? Why? And why does she return? The answers are what make the novel tick along, weaving into the past, her memories of life at that ashram, where the respected Guru is not as respectable as she thought, what she saw and experienced; and weaving into the present, where she sees the world around her but finds stones from that past as well. If that alone is not enough to keep the story alive, there is the story of three other women on a pilgrimage, the tour-guide who charges more than he needs to, and the photographer who joins her project but with demons to exorcise.
Sometimes it’s not about the story. The story might be good, it might be great, but it’s about the storytelling. This book is about the storytelling. Anuradha Roy breaks conventions here, and pulls out all the stops to interlink those in a vivid way. The story may traverse expected lines at times, but what it does is keeps you engaged with the emotion rather than the words – like the pathos felt for the little girl Nomi as she is abused at that ashram. Reading that from the point of view of the girl is heartbreaking, and may be even creepy. The other stories along with hers are not as explored, but still matter, for they link with each other well, and those characters have their own quirks – the lady with the bad memory, the gay tour-guide and the dominating but mysterious tea-seller. With many characters, there are some threads left that the reader has to close, and that disappoints a little. But those are minor details. The book is about demons – Nomi’s childhood in particular. It’s about the possibilty that these scenarios might be a reality even today. It touches a chord with the situation in the country at the moment.
I certainly hope that this novel, one that is to be read, makes the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize, and if it does, given the setting and the pathos-filled exploration, I’d say it stands a chance. From the beautiful cover, to the poignant, powerful storytelling, this is one book that I know will stay on my shelf for a long time to come.
|Title: Sleeping on Jupiter|
|Author(s): Anuradha Roy||Genre: Literary Fiction|
|ISBN/ASIN: 9789350099360||Publisher: Hachette India|
(© 31st August 2015)