A relatively inconsequential plot provides the armature for Amit Chaudhuri's A New World
: Jayojit Chatterjee, a recently divorced economics professor at an American college, returns home to Calcutta for a two-month holiday with his 7-year-old son, Bonny. Here he takes up residence in his parents' flat in a modern, characterless building. At once a son and a father, at home and displaced, he deals with the minutiae of each day and thinks about his failed marriage, his parents' health, his mother's cooking, his own weight gain, the neighbors, the weather, and the hired help.
Notable for the precision of his observations, Chaudhuri recounts small telling moments of daily life with a mannerliness that avoids looking squarely at the obvious dysfunction in the Chatterjee household, while at the same time obliquely illuminating the melancholy that pervades it. Once part of colonial India's military, Jayojit's now retired parents live lives of reduced circumstances--the rhythm of their days dictated by heat, a morning walk, a trip to the bank, the daily suspense over whether the maid will appear. Proud, affectionate, but inarticulate, they express their love through offers of food and financial news. Uncomplaining, Jayojit and Bonny endure the climate and ennui, and in a marginal, temporary way participate in a world that is no longer theirs. Chaudhuri's writing, like his characters, is admirable in its restraint, as in this passage in which he describes Jayojit's first morning in Calcutta:
Jayojit had woken up late, at eleven. He had had a bath, and then changed into a shirt and shorts. Wearing shorts exposed his large fair thighs and calves, covered with smooth strands of black hair. His mother seemed to notice nothing unusual about his clothes; parents accept that offspring who live abroad will appear to them in a slightly altered incarnation, and are even disappointed if they do not.
Thus formality and forbearance binds this family as much as love.
Hailed as a dazzling new talent in 1999 for Freedom Song, a collection of three novellas, Chaudhuri's remarkable accomplishment lies in the scope and complexity he paradoxically evokes in his exacting attention paid to mundane detail. --Victoria Jenkins
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From Publishers Weekly
The still, shadowy languor of a sweltering Calcutta summer spent indoors suffuses this elegant but enervating novel by the author of the much-acclaimed trio of short novels, Freedom Song. Chaudhuri's protagonist, Jayojit Chatterjee, an ambitious professor at a Midwestern college, visits his native India in the wake of an ugly divorce and two abortive attempts to remarry. In Calcutta, he stays with his aging parents, his bluff father, a retired admiral, and his more traditional Bengali mother. The summer-long trip also gives him a chance to connect with his seldom-seen son and travel companion, seven-year-old Bonny, who spends the school year with his mother in California. But rather than focusing on the ravages of Jayojit's inner life and recent past, Chaudhuri avoids them, slipping the occasional flashback into the narrative while concentrating on detailsDa round of table tennis with Bonny, an orange-and-white sari, Jayojit's mother's oily breakfasts. As he demonstrated in Freedom Song, Chaudhuri has an eye for such minutiae, and his prose continues to be as rich and evocative as in his earlier effort. But while Freedom Song strung together a series of vignettes, here Chaudhuri struggles with the task of sustaining the reader's interest over the course of a full-length, albeit short, novel. The reader senses that the novel's heart is buried beneath its layers of description, but its emotional pulse proves elusive. (Oct.)
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