Year 3 / Book 37: Ghachar, Ghochar

37) Ghachar, Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag

I can’t for the life of me remember where I heard about this wonderful, short book by the Indian author Vivek Shanbhag, brilliantly translated by Srinath Perur – but it got added to the wishlist a while back, and then spotted in the local Oxfam bookshop. It is one of those fabulous stories that manages to include and encompass so much more than seems possible in its pages.

It’s told from the perspective of the narrator, who is part of an Indian family that has gone from poverty to comparative riches in a short space of time, a journey that has put stress on their relationships, inside and outside their house. Right from the start, when we join the narrator in his favourite escape, Coffee House, there are the elements that make this a fascinating read: a precise eye for detail, a tense undercurrent, a slight air of mystery to proceedings, but also a universality to the emotions and relationships that you can associate with.

It’s amazingly concise, with as much becoming apparent in the gaps between events and what is left unsaid as in what is written down. Each of the family members, from the upstanding father Appa to the new head of the family Chikkappa, from the spoilt sister Malati to the narrator’s wife Anita, are richly drawn and evoked through tiny details and snatches of dialogue. And it is a testament to the quality of the writing that the novel(la) tackles class, life purpose, family loyalty (I’m not sure the phrase “blood is thicker than water” has ever been more sinisterly used), changing economies, gender relationships, ethics, violence, loyalty and the power of money. For starters; and it is all, as the book explains, ghachar ghochar (kind of screwed up / entwined).

It is also disarmingly light, or even slight – but is actually underpinned by a darkness that runs underneath the narrative like a subterranean river through a city. A darkness which rises up to the surface as the narrative reaches its end, as much as there is one – again, it is left unsaid and happens ‘offstage’. I have a feeling this is going to be one of those books that stays with me a long time.

Score: 9/10

BUY IT NOW: Ghachar Ghochar

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