Mukherjee, Neel "A State of Freedom" - 2017
I like stories about India and so far, haven't found one I didn't like. Well, I think I might have "achieved" it this time. What I didn't know - and it isn't mentioned anywhere in the book - that this is more a book of short stories, you discover it when the first story is over all of a sudden (on page 22).
The two longer ones seem to belong together but they might as well have been about different people as you only notice toward the end that this is the same person they talk about in the other story. Those were the only ones I could get into, as well. The three others, I couldn't really relate to any of the characters, even less the story itself. The second and the fourth story tell us about a rich Indian guy who returns home every other year to visit his family while the fourth goes more into the lives of the domestic personnel his family has hired. That was my favourite.
The first, third and fifth story are also supposed to be linked but the connection is far less obvious and doesn't really add to the individual stories.
As I said, whilst liking Indian stories, this was not mine. I shall go back to authors like Amitav Ghosh, Jhumpa Lahiri, Rohinton Mistry, V.S. Naipaul, Vikram Seth, and others that I hopefully will come across.
Lesson to be learned for the publisher: Don't call short stories a novel, you get bad reviews from those who expect a novel and readers who only like short stories will not attempt it.
From the back cover:
"What happens when we attempt to exchange the life we are given for something better? Can we transform the possibilities we are born into?
A State of Freedom prises open the central, defining events of our century - displacement and migration - but not as you imagine them.
Five characters, in very different circumstances, from a domestic cook in Mumbai, to a vagrant and his dancing bear, and a girl who escapes terror in her home village for a new life in the city, find out the meanings of dislocation, and the desire for more.
Set in contemporary India and moving between the reality of this world and the shadow of another, this novel of multiple narratives - formally daring, fierce but full of pity - delivers a devastating and haunting exploration of the unquenchable human urge to strive for a different life."