This stunning second novel from Desai (Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard) is set in mid-1980s India, on the cusp of the Nepalese movement for an independent state. Jemubhai Popatlal, a retired Cambridge-educated judge, lives in Kalimpong, at the foot of the Himalayas, with his orphaned granddaughter, Sai, and his cook. The makeshift family's neighbors include a coterie of Anglophiles who might be savvy readers of V.S. Naipaul but who are, perhaps, less aware of how fragile their own social standing is?at least until a surge of unrest disturbs the region. Jemubhai, with his hunting rifles and English biscuits, becomes an obvious target. Besides threatening their very lives, the revolution also stymies the fledgling romance between 16-year-old Sai and her Nepalese tutor, Gyan. The cook's son, Biju, meanwhile, lives miserably as an illegal alien in New York. All of these characters struggle with their cultural identity and the forces of modernization while trying to maintain their emotional connection to one another. In this alternately comical and contemplative novel, Desai deftly shuttles between first and third worlds, illuminating the pain of exile, the ambiguities of post-colonialism and the blinding desire for a better life, when one person's wealth means another's poverty.
Desai's second novel is set in the nineteen-eighties in the northeast corner of India, where the borders of several Himalayan states – Bhutan and Sikkim, Nepal and Tibet – meet. At the head of the novel's teeming cast is Jemubhai Patel, a Cambridge-educated judge who has retired from serving a country he finds "too messy for justice." He lives in an isolated house with his cook, his orphaned seventeen-year-old granddaughter, and a red setter, whose company Jemubhai prefers to that of human beings. The tranquillity of his existence is contrasted with the life of the cook's son, working in grimy Manhattan restaurants, and with his granddaughter's affair with a Nepali tutor involved in an insurgency that irrevocably alters Jemubhai's life. Briskly paced and sumptuously written, the novel ponders questions of nationhood, modernity, and class, in ways both moving and revelatory.
Winner of the 2006 Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction for her second novel , Kiran Desai is one of the most talented writers of her generation. Now available for the first time as a Grove Press paperback, —Desai’s dazzling debut novel — is a wryly hilarious and poignant story that simultaneously captures the vivid culture of the Indian subcontinent and the universal intricacies of human experience. Sampath Chawla was born in a time of drought into a family not quite like other families, in a town not quite like other towns. After years of failure at school, failure at work, of spending his days dreaming in tea stalls, it does not seem as if Sampath is going to amount to much — until one day he climbs a guava tree in search of peaceful contemplation and becomes unexpectedly famous as a holy man, sending his tiny town into turmoil. A syndicate of larcenous, alcoholic monkeys terrorize the pilgrims who cluster around Sampath’s tree, spies and profiteers descend on the town, and none of Desai’s outrageous characters goes unaffected as events spin increasingly out of control.