Southern India 1969. Here, armed only with the invincible innocence of children, Rahel and Esthappen fashion a childhood for themselves in the shade of the wreck that is their family: their lonely, lovely mother, who loves by night the same man her children adore by day… their blind grandmother, who plays Handel on her violin… their beloved uncle, A Rhodes Scholar pickle baron, radical Marxist, bottom-pincher… their enemy, an ex-nun and incumbent grandaunt… and the ghost of an imperial entomologist’s moth. But when their English cousin and her mother arrive for a Christmas visit, the twins learn that things can change in an instant, that lives can twist into new, ugly shapes, even cease forever. The brilliantly plotted story uncoils with an agonizing sense of foreboding and inevitability. Yet nothing prepares you for what lies at the heart of it.
It is an aching love story and a decisive remonstration, a story told in a whisper, in a shout, through unsentimental tears and sometimes with a bitter laugh. Each of its characters is indelibly, tenderly rendered. Its heroes are people who have been broken by the world they live in and then rescued, patched together by acts of love — and by hope.
The tale begins with Anjum — who used to be Aftab — unrolling a threadbare Persian carpet in a city graveyard she calls home. We encounter the odd, unforgettable Tilo and the men who loved her — including Musa, sweetheart and ex-sweetheart, lover and ex-lover; their fates are as entwined as their arms used to be and always will be. We meet Tilo’s landlord, a former suitor, now an intelligence officer posted to Kabul. And then we meet the two Miss Jebeens: the first a child born in Srinagar and buried in its overcrowded Martyrs’ Graveyard; the second found at midnight, abandoned on a concrete sidewalk in the heart of New Delhi.
As this ravishing, deeply humane novel braids these lives together, it reinvents what a novel can do and can be. demonstrates on every page the miracle of Arundhati Roy’s storytelling gifts.