Book review: Another Country
ANJALI Joseph’s debut novel, Saraswati Park, won a trunkload of awards last year.
Based loosely on her own cross-cultural experiences – born in Mumbai, educated at Cambridge, working for a time in Paris, returning to Mumbai – it nimbly dissected the experiences of youth, while nailing some universal truths about family, community, and the urge to belong.
Another Country, like that debut, draws on Joseph’s own experience. So Leela, fresh down from Cambridge, arrives in Paris to teach at a language school (Joseph taught at the Sorbonne).
There, after a rocky start, she flirts with the young ex-pat scene, before upping sticks to London, and then, after an on-off relationship with a commitment-phobe, heads home to Mumbai, where she almost settles down.
Above all, Leela wants to fit in. It takes a relationship with the son of one of Mumbai’s wealthiest families (some wonderful, wry vignettes here), to make her see that being on her own for a bit would be preferable to a lifetime in the wrong family, with the wrong mother-in-law.
As an account of twentysomething social fumbling Another Country has its electric moments: drunken partying, first dates, petty insecurities and unrequited longings are conjured in prose that thrums with energy.
But reproducing the blundering journeys of youth is tricky in a fiction.
Leela moves from country to country, and relationship to relationship, leaving threads of her story dangling, and without appearing to mature very much – just as in real life, no doubt.
For the reader craving structure and some sense of an internal journey, however, it becomes frustrating.
Joseph is brilliant at atmosphere: capturing moments, images, thoughts. And Leela does a lot of thinking. At one point she confides: “It’s like you’re always learning things, but never the things you need to know to stop making the same mistake in a new way.”
Just one damn thing after another – after a while you hardly care.
by Anjali Joseph
Fourth Estate, 264pp, £12.99
• Anjali Joseph will be at the Edinburgh book festival on 16 August.
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