Kiran Desai,
Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard
(Anchor Books, 1999)

Sampath Chowla was born under auspicious signs. Even though his mother went slightly crazy during the pregnancy (attributed to the heat) and his father was a civil servant of the ladder-climbing kind and was given to fits of anger (attributed again to the heat) -- there were big plans for Sampath. He was born on the day the harshest drought in Shahkot ended in a monsoon.

Twenty-odd years later, despite the great predictions, Sampath was going nowhere fast. Not quite of this world, his failing grades and distracted tendencies led him to a dead-end, bottom of the barrel job as a postal clerk. After a dance for his boss in drag leaves him jobless -- Sampath runs away. He climbs a tree, to his father's chagrin, and refuses to come down.

A misunderstanding puts Sampath in the possibly-mistaken position of a holy man, a Baba, and it just gets worse from there, spiralling Sampath's life (and that of his family) into a mad circus of events they can't control.

This book is of a rare humor and craft. Descriptions are opulent and rich, but not so much that it becomes distracting from the story. Enough zany humor is added in to hint that this would be a fantastic movie, but on another level, the subtle humor and obscure puns add in another, deeper dimension. The characters each stand out on his or her own merit; each of them entwined in the story but having their own, as well.

Watch out for the ending -- the lead up time does get a little long and drawn-out as the author tries to build up to the final climax, and even then, the climax seems a little ... well ... anticlimactic. What it does, though, is sticks with you, making more sense as you mull it over.

I highly recommend this book for poolside reading, if you can't make it to your own guava grove. Between the sister who thinks that love is communicated by biting off the ear of your intended, Sampath's Ben Franklin-type wisdom caplets, and a group of drunken monkeys -- it's a perfect accompaniment with which to share the extra time of your vacation days.

[ by Elizabeth Badurina ]

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