Fourth book reviewed as part of the 130 Challenge
I absolutely loved this book! This might just be the best book that I read this year. Okay, maybe I’m getting a bit carried away and speaking too soon, but this book is just brilliant!
A reviewer on Goodreads reviewed this book thus – ‘Four-and-a-half (on five). I propped this book up on the water cooler because I did not want to stop reading it while filling my bottle. End of review.’
Now, I also propped this book against on my wash-basin while brushing my teeth and I too want to write a review like that; so clever and succinct. But she already beat me to it, so I am going to go the long way (hehehe).
This book is about Em, Imelda, The Big Hoom and Augustine. Now, Em and Imelda are technically the same person, but they aren’t the same person. Ditto with The Big Hoom and Augustine. Life changes us one day at a time and while it still remains wonderful, it definitely doesn’t remain the same. The life of the narrator in this book (whose name I forget), his sister Susan, their dad and mom has new surprises in store for them every day!
The story is narrated in a way that keeps you glued to it. It’s a flashback narrative but doesn’t really follow any particular chronology. The story unfolds through letters, diary entries or stories that Em tells to her inquisitive son (narrator). These letters are sometimes unposted letters that the narrator discovers and reads to make sense of the enigma that was his mother and her relationship with his father, who stands by her always; stoic and unwavering.
Throughout the book, Em keeps you entertained with her clever repartee and acerbic (yet funny) observations. So much so, that I had a hard time choosing what to include and what not to, in the excerpts from this book! Em lends her character to the story and just like her; the story unfolds as a stark tale with dark undercurrents, swathed with her cynical humor and peppered with brilliant quips.
Besides Em’s own story, you also read about a love story that intertwines neatly with the main narrative; the story of how Mrs and Mr Mendes came to be. And what an interesting story that is! In this tale there is the lovely and outspoken Imelda who is also witty and incredibly funny and there is Augustine, who is the smart, intelligent, understanding and charming young man, the pleasure of whose company, Imelda just can’t resist. It is an endearing and thoroughly delightful tale that adds so many more dimensions to Em and the Big Hoom’s characters. It tells us how their life must have been before Imelda became Em.
Throughout the book, you will find references to the old Bombay of the 50s and 80s and many other pop culture references that are now out of fashion. But what stood out most for me was the utterly nonchalant way in which the author has described the life of the Mendeses. He doesn’t dwell too much on how they lived their life; he just gives you anecdotes and lets you see for yourself. While other such stories try to depict the sorrow and suffering of a middle class family in Bombay, this doesn’t. It just presents to you the story and lets you decide for yourself. Which, I feel is a wonderful way of portraying life – through anecdotes and recollection.
There is nothing about this book that I didn’t like. The way Imelda calls Augustine ‘LOS’ or ‘Limb Of Satan’ or writes to him calling him ‘Angel ears’ or even her nickname for Susan, ‘Lao Tsu’ and the way she smokes her beedis and orders everyone to make tea. The way Mae calls everything ‘thissing’ and how the Chinese take-away guy says ‘Uncle ko bolo free‘ (tell uncle, it’s free). This book is so real and so Bombay! I even fell in love with the cover and the way this book has been designed. I went about showing it to all my friends and demanding them to appreciate it! Jerry Pinto has really put in a lot of effort into this book and I must say that the 25 years of his labor have borne fruit. When you read this book, you wouldn’t be able to believe that this was his first novel!
So, if you’re reading this review, I demand that you read this book without fail. Just to make it clearer, you must read this book. Come what may. Understood? Good.
Rating – 9/10 (Okay, it was an awesome read. But I just can’t give it a perfect 10. The perfectionist in me refuses to do that)