The cripple of Anosh Irani's debut novel, The Cripple and His Talismans
, is the first-person narrator of this strange and humorous fantasy, a resident of Bombay who has lost his arm and goes off in search of it. Each chapter reads like a parable: magical, sometimes dreamlike, but often devoid of any apparent meaning. The cripple meets a coffin-maker, a guru, a pair of fighting lepers, and various people he abused in his own past and to whom he feels he must make amends. He also fails at an attempt to commit suicide by leaping from a 20-story building.
Irani can be extremely funny--a long phone conversation with a government clerk is hysterical in its depiction of a narrow-minded bureaucrat: "Is this a terrorist call? ... If this is a terrorist call, there is a separate number for that." At times, however, his humour can go overboard into weak puns and silliness ("His honour was on her"). He can also write lines of striking beauty: "These impoverished men are casual. They are orange leaves falling on your cheek." The depiction of Bombay is too relentlessly surreal, however, and too many scenes read like dreams, which makes it impossible for the reader to conjure a distinct image of the city. The plot remains as thin and meandering as a path through a South Asian shantytown. And yet the writing has an energy and a pulse that are fresh and quite distinct from any other novelist working in Canada. This is a writer to watch. --Mark Frutkin
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From Publishers Weekly
An unnamed narrator searches for his missing arm in a Bombay marked by odd magic and peopled by surreal prophets in Irani's lush debut novel. The protagonist awakes in a hospital with his arm amputated, but with no memory of how he was injured. Thus begins his quest: a search to unravel the mystery of the missing limb that signifies a spiritual journey. A young man of privilege, he forgoes material comforts for an austere existence more fitting for a "novice cripple" and discovers a Bombay he never knew. Various underworld characters offer him cryptic clues: the beggar Gura instructs him to listen to the sounds of the streets for answers, a woman selling rainbows warns him of an evil eye, and a leper gives him a finger, which he carries thereafter in search of its significance. On this colorful journey of self-discovery, the narrator investigates his past and faces his sins. Though the novel's many instructive riddles ("Your eyes see only that which they are meant to") can read as New Agey sound bites, an undercurrent of dark humor as well as Irani's atmospheric evocation of Bombay enliven this compelling story. Agent, Denise Bukowski. (May)
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