Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Review of The Folded Earth, First City, April 2011

There are novels that spill beyond merely the sum of their parts: stories, characters, narrative strategies. The Folded Earth is one such novel, its evocative title so wonderfully suggestive of the way its story seems to have emerged from the atmosphere of a place - the core of its emotion not merely in characters or situations, but derived from the pervasive moods of nature.

Set in the small hill town of Ranikhet overlooking the spectacular iciness of the Himalayas, where eagles pare the sky in unbroken circular lines, as if it’s an orange, the novel unravels through Maya, a young woman who comes here to seek refuge from her memories. She seeks cold abstracted distance, but here in the spectacular proximity to nature, and in the constant experience of its vividness, her life is lush with feeling: memories swell and fade, incidents are quietly drenched in feeling, lives meld and tie her inexplicably to the web connecting the small population of this nook of the mountains: her landlord Diwan Sahib who hides a secret stash of letters from Nehru to Edwina Mountbatten, his colourful tenant Ama, and her son Puran who is infinitely tender with animals but perplexed by human relationships; Ama’s teenage granddaughter Charu, who finds a beautiful bond with the shy waiter Kundan Singh, kept alive in the letters that he writes to her - letters she cannot read, which make her battle with alphabet and absence. They all talk to each other in a language where the unsaid lines are dispersed into the space of nature they inhabit together, understood by being, not saying.

Written in a tenor that touches fleshy finitude as well as sparse notes, and overheard more than read amidst its pages, The Folded Earth is a book you will hold close to your chest long after the last page is turned.

Rating: ****

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