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Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard by Kiran…

Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard (1998)

by Kiran Desai

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7762717,003 (3.52)44
  1. 30
    Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel (MaidMeri)
    MaidMeri: Desai's book is a much, much lighter read, but like Esquivel's, full of trivial yet delightful details and sub-plots. Other similarities include cooking, being repressed by one's family and eccentric, strong female characters.

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» See also 44 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
Entertaining fable of modern-day India. Sampath, who has never amounted to anything, runs away and climbs the guava tree where he becomes known as the Monkey Baba - an esteemed holy man revered by his village and other pilgrims. ( )
  BookConcierge | Feb 11, 2016 |
Indian son and monkeys living in an orchard with a variety of chaos going on - family, drunken monkeys, govt officials and assorted problem solvers
- an endearing tale. ( )
  siri51 | Jan 13, 2016 |
RGG: Humorous story set in a modern Indian village about a man becoming a holy man.
  rgruberhighschool | Apr 9, 2015 |
Nice story filled with humor and very close to small town life ( )
  rajveerspace | Mar 25, 2014 |
Best as an audiobook but this is a brilliant book.Sampath runs away from his house and escapes to an orchard inadvertently becoming a guru. A really funny book and one I have read several times and often give away as a present. ( )
  woolenthusiast | May 26, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)

Although the publishers of "Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard" have been comparing the book to Arundhati Roy's award-winning novel "God of Small Things," 27-year old Kiran Desai turns out to have less in common with Ms. Roy or Salman Rushdie than with an older generation of Indian writers, including her mother, Anita Desai, and R.K. Narayan. There are no grand, mythic visions at work in "Hullabaloo," no ambitious displays of magical realism. Rather, the novel stands as a meticulously crafted piece of gently comic satire -- a small, finely tuned fable that attests to the author's pitch-perfect ear for character and mood, and her natural storytelling gifts.

As Mr. Narayan has done in his well-known Malgudi stories, Ms. Desai has conjured up a small Indian town, poised midway between tradition and modernity, and focused on the life of one of that town's anonymous inhabitants -- a dreamy, introspective fellow torn between his familial obligations and his own desire to be left alone.

In the case of "Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard," this dreamer is a slovenly young man named Sampath Chawla, who was born in the town of Shahkot during a historic monsoon that ended months of drought. For years, Sampath has done nothing to live up to the expectations wrought by his auspicious birth: he has sleepwalked through school, daydreamed through work. Since getting a job at the local post office, he has spent most of his free time reading other people's mail and musing about their lives.

Although Sampath causes his go-getter father endless grief, his grandmother prophesizes great things: "But the world is round," she declares. "Wait and see! Even if it appears he is going downhill, he will come up out on the other side. Yes, on top of the world. He is just taking the longer route."

Because "Hullabaloo" is the kind of fable where prophecies always come true, Sampath's grandmother is quickly proven correct. Not long after Sampath runs away from home and takes up residence in a guava tree with a band of monkeys, he is being acclaimed as the hermit of Shahkot, a visionary blessed with "an unusual spiritual nature." His furtive reading of other people's mail has endowed him with what seems like the power of second sight, just as his simple-minded love of adages promotes a reputation for "unfathomable wisdom."

If Sampath's incongruous enshrinement as a wise man plays off the hallowed Indian tradition of spiritual enlightenment, the events that accompany his newly discovered holiness read like an out-and-out sendup of the Western cult of celebrity. Sampath's ambitious father is soon gussying up his son's orchard bower (trying hard to keep a balance "between the look of abstemiousness and actual comfort") and concocting a host of moneymaking schemes designed to capitalize on his son's newfound fame. Soon, buses and rickshaws are bringing tourists to visit "the famous Baba in his treetop hermitage," and making Sampath's family rich.

All is not well, however. Sampath's monkey companions have developed a taste for liquor and become a growing public nuisance. Worse, a spy for the local Atheist Society has vowed to expose Sampath as a fraud. "It was precisely people like Sampath who obstructed the progress of this nation, keeping honest, educated people like him in the backwaters along with them," the spy thinks. "They ate away at these striving, intelligent souls, they ate away at progress and smothered anybody who tried to make a stand against the vast uneducated hordes, swelling and growing toward the biggest population of idiots in the world."

Ms. Desai does a clever, dexterous job of orchestrating these events, and in doing so introduces a sprawling cast of characters rendered in bright folk-art colors. There's Sampath's immediate family, of course: his hustling, status-conscious father; his eccentric, ditsy mother and his pushy, man-handling sister. And then there are the town officials, charged with containing the hullabaloo surrounding Sampath: Vermaji, a monkey expert who is puffed up with self-importance; the brigadier, who would rather count the birds in his garden than preside over his troops, and the superintendent of police, who neglects his duties in hopes of being demoted. Filling out the cast are Sampath's former colleagues at the post office, an unfortunate ice cream vendor who catches the attention of Sampath's bossy sister and a chorus of pilgrims and tourists.

These bumbling characters may teeter on the edge of caricature, but the author delineates them with such wit and bemused affection that they insinuate themselves insidiously in our minds, even as they lend the fictional town of Shahkot a palpable fairy tale charm. With "Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard," Ms. Desai has made a modest but enchanting debut.

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For my family with love
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That summer the heat had enveloped the whole of Shahkot in a murky yellow haze. The clutter of rooftops and washing lines that usually stretched all the way to the foothills at the horizon grew blurred and merged with the dust-filled sky.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385493703, Paperback)

Pity the poor Chawla family of Shahkot, India--their son, Sampath causes all kinds of trouble for his family, culminating in a Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, but in a village like Shakhot, hullabaloo is a way of life. Indian writer Kiran Desai begins her first novel with Sampath's birth at the tail-end of a terrible drought. His mother, Kulfi, half-maddened by heat and hunger, can think of nothing but food: "Her stomach grew larger. Her dreams of eating more extravagant. The house seemed to shrink. All about her the summer stretched white-hot into an infinite distance. Finally, in desperation for another landscape, she found a box of old crayons in the back of a cupboard and ... began to draw.... As her husband and mother-in-law retreated in horror, not daring to upset her or the baby still inside her, she drew a parade of cooks beheading goats." Sampath's father, Mr. Chawla is a man for whom "oddness, like aches and pains, fits of tears and lethargy" is a source of discomfort; he fears "these uncontrollable, messy puddles of life, the sticky humanness of things." This distaste for sticky humanness will prove problematic for Mr. Chawla later in life when his son grows up to become a young man possessed of a great deal of feeling and very little common sense or ambition.

Mr. Chawla's frustration comes to a head when Sampath loses his menial job at the post office after performing an impromptu cross-dressing strip-tease at his boss's daughter's wedding. Confined to the house in disgrace, Sampath runs away from home and takes refuge in the branches of a guava tree in an abandoned orchard outside of town. At first family and townsfolk think he's mad, but in an inspired moment of self-preservation Sampath, who had spent his time in the post office reading other people's mail, reveals some choice secrets about his persecutors and convinces them that he is, in fact, clairvoyant. It isn't long before Mr. Chawla sees the commercial possibilities of having a holy man in the family, and pretty soon the guava orchard has become the latest stop along the spiritual tourism trail.

Take one holy man in a guava tree, add a venal father, a food-obsessed mother and a younger sister in love with the Hungry Hop Kwality Ice Cream boy and you've got a recipe for delicious comedy. Mix in a rioting band of alcoholic monkeys, a journalist determined to expose Sampath as a fraud, an unholy trio of hypochondriac district medical officer, army general and university professor, all determined to solve the monkey problem, and you've got a real hullabaloo. Kiran Desai's delirious tale of love, faith, and family relationships is funny, smartly written, and reminiscent of other works by Indian authors writing in English such as Salman Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh, Banerjee Divakaruni's The Mistress of Spices and Shashi Tharoor's Show Business. --Alix Wilber

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:33 -0400)

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Sampath Chawla's family thinks that he will never amount to anything, but overnight he becomes a holy man in their village, and his fame turns both his family's and his own life upside down.

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