Home, family, identity, the modern condition of love, the classic coming of age—these are literary tropes and schemes novels never tire of diving into. Here are three recent fiction titles that navigate the cultural tensions and contradictions of our times by seeking the light. It is the light that never quite goes out—from the stars and the galaxy to the shimmer of gold to the functional white of the humble light bulb.
UNDER THE SILVERY MOON
THERE ARE SENTENCES in The Illuminated that linger like fading moonbeams in a rising dawn. Poornima, a strong and feisty domestic help in the novel, likes to see the moon in the morning as much as she enjoys telling a good story. “If you’re lucky, and if you’re nearing the full moon, you can see it in the morning, Didi,” says Poornima to her beloved employer, Shashi, towards the end of the book.
Poornima is the full moon, a beacon of culmination and fulfillment. When the time comes for a resolution, author Anindita Ghose sets forth yet another beautiful line which reads like a truth untethered, perhaps a key to the lunar language of her debut novel: “Everything important comes to us in the moonlight: dreams, babies, shiuli blooms.”
Stylish, witty and wise, The Illuminated is also diligent in the way it tracks the subtle ways in which women suffer the depredations of power imbalances. The gracious, tea-loving Shashi Mallick has the perfect marriage. Her handsome, loving husband, Robi, is North Calcutta royalty and a successful architect. Shashi’s daughter, Sanskrit scholar Nayantara, is tall and proud. Not used to being rejected or denied, she loses her sense of self in one short affair which completely crushes, only to create anew.
The novel opens a week into Robi’s death in New Jersey, at their son Surjo’s house. It then proceeds to exquisitely reminiscence, reflect and reveal the familial knots and weaves of the Mallick household from Kolkata to New Delhi, the dangerous, often ludicrous, intrusions of right-wing fanaticism, the healing vistas of the mighty Dhauladhars and the crystalline verses of Bhartrihari and Bilhana.
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