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Saraswati Park by Anjali Joseph
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Saraswati Park

by Anjali Joseph

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Showing 4 of 4
Polite, well-behaved, civilised, workshopped-to-death prose about middle-class people having crises and anxieties in polite, well-behaved, civilised ways.

Once upon a time I would have had more tolerance for this kind of thing but now, almost none at all. ( )
  subabat | Mar 19, 2018 |
It took me a while to get into this, but it's well worth it. S Park is a much better defense of the realist novel than Franzen's Freedom, for instance; it packs the same emotional weight into a third of the pages (and, at a guess, a quarter of the words). Like 'Freedom,' the book has a bit of a chip on its shoulder: while Franzen talks a lot about Tolstoy, Joseph's particular reference is Henry James, and there's some great, gentle parody of the modernists (James Joyce as captain of the pick-up cricket team, menacing the younger boys). I'm curious to know how much the media representation of this as a kind of anti-Magical Realism polemic is based on Joseph's actual feelings, and how much of it is just good marketing aimed at people who, like me, can't really be bothered trudging through 600 page novels about the 'color' and 'exoticism' of the sub-continent. Certainly you could read the novel as precisely that kind of polemic; but maybe it's not.

And if you don't care about that, it's just a lovely book full of the minor domestic dramas that we all live through, and an all too rare instance of a well-written book that suggests family life isn't there just so the young have something from which to escape. There are very, very few false steps in the prose, and one or two wonderful moments- particularly the paragraph which gives the book its cover in this edition. Certainly the writing isn't ambitious, but since so many young authors torture language in order to express nothing, I'm fine with that. ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
My enjoyment of novels set in India has continued with Saraswati Park, the debut novel by Anjali Joseph.

Set in Bombay it features Mohan who in an age of electronic communication, sits under a tree near the post office and writes letters for the illiterate. His children have left home, his marriage to Lakshmi has become dull, and he seeks respite in collecting books and dreaming of a day when he can write his own book based on the stories that come to him in his sleep. He derives small pleasure by visiting the street vendors who sell 2nd hand books at Fountain area and ccollecting 2nd hand books (especially those with wide margins so he can make notes). It’s a habit which irritates his wife.

But she too is a collector, covering the surface of their kitchen table with bottles and jars of food. Her outlet from the endless round of domestic chores lies in the TV soap operas she increasingly fills her day watching. In a telling moment about the narrow circle of her life she reflects that

…her relationship with the shirts, neatly ironed and folded, was so much more direct than any other interaction”.

Into the humdrum lives of this couple, comes their 19 year old nephew Ashish. He’s a young man adrift in the world, unable to focus on his final year studies in literature, who allows himself to be seduced by a more wealthy student. But as quickly as that relationship starts, Ashish finds himself abruptly rejected and subjected to the sniggers of other students. He similarly sleep walks into his next relationship, this time with the more experienced, world wise professor who is meant to be tutoring him for the upcoming exams.
Ashish is the catalyst for the narrative development. He is the instigator of Mohan’s first efforts to become a writer and the outlet for his aunt’s affection and it’s his presence that sustains Mohan through the troubled months when he fears Lakshmi has left him.

Saraswati Park is an endearing portrait of these three very ordinary people; intimate and at times wry in its observations as they discover themselves and learn what matters most to them.

But there is a fourth – equally important – character in this novel: the city of Bombay itself. Vibrant, chaotic, full of sound and movement and yet capable of delivering moments of unexpected tranquility. It’s the product of Anjali Joseph’s personal knowledge of the city – born in Bombay her years of study at Cambridge and then East Anglia have given her the ability of objective distancing.

A deserved winner of the Betty Trask Award, Joseph is tipped by many critics to be an author to watch in the future.

Well worth reading. ( )
  Mercury57 | Oct 21, 2012 |
I was going to go for 3 stars on the strength of the first half of this book but I found myself enjoying this short tale the more I read. The weaker moments are the at times constant reminiscing of the characters about some aspect of their past set off normally by a sound or a smell as they go about their daily business. This became a little tiresome at the beginning but the real strength of this book is the exploration of emotions and relationships that two very different men have. I found myself getting emotional during the last few pages especially as the theme of departures and new beginnings seemed to touch a nerve with me. At times this book is perfectly weighted and highly enjoyable. ( )
  polarbear123 | Aug 21, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0007360789, Paperback)

A tremendous first novel from an exciting young author recently chosen as one of the Telegraph's '20 under 40' best UK writers. Famous for its electric chaos, the city of Bombay also accommodates pockets of calm. In one such space works Mohan, a contemplative man who has spent his life observing people from his seat as a letter-writer outside the main post office. But Mohan's lack of engagement with the world has caused a thawing of his marriage. At this delicate moment Mohan - and his wife, Lakshmi - are joined at their home in Saraswati Park by their nephew, Ashish, a sexually uncertain 19-year-old who has to repeat his final year in college. As the novel unfolds, the lives of each of the three characters are thrown into relief by the comical frustrations of family life: annoying relatives, unspoken yearnings and unheard grievances. When Lakshmi loses her only brother, she leaves Bombay for a relative's home to mourn not only the death of a sibling but also the vital force of her marriage. Ashish, meanwhile, embarks on an affair with a much richer boy in his college and, not long afterwards, succumbs to the overtures of his English tutor. As Mohan scribbles away in the margins of the sort of books he secretly hopes to write one day, he worries about whether his wife will return, what will become of Ashish, and if he himself will ever find his own voice to write from the margins about the centre of which he will never be a part.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:27 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Mohan, a middle-aged letter writer sits under a banyan tree in Fort, furnishing missives for village migrants, disenchanted lovers, and when pickings are slim, filling in money order forms. But Mohan's true passion is collecting second-hand books and he's particularly attached to novels with marginal annotations.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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