Book review: Bombay Baby

Topical: Leela Soma tackles contemporary issues of IVF, adoption and race

Topical: Leela Soma tackles contemporary issues of IVF, adoption and race

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TINA Wilson was an Indian embryo acquired by a Glasgow couple. At adulthood, Tina yearns to find her genetic mother.

She gets a job in medical records in the IVF clinic in Mumbai where her (white Scottish) mother had been inseminated and where Tina becomes romantically involved. Meanwhile, in 1968, Jimmy Campbell follows the Beatles to Rishikesh, falls in love with the lovely Rita (not a meter maid)… and, as the smiling Maharishi might have intoned, “the past is in the future”.

This is an engaging, upbeat piece of popular fiction. With its rubric of globalised commercial IVF, reverse surrogacy, adoption and matters of race, Bombay Baby is as topical as a Baroness Mary Warnock report. It would appeal equally to teenagers and their parents irrespective of social group or geography. Tina loves Mills and Boon, and throughout Bombay Baby plays on the contingencies of romantic love.

The characters are deftly and sympathetically drawn. The narrative centres around “shining”, heterogeneous, polyglot India (and a less shiny Scotland) and there are subtexts of psychological repression, social class and other iniquities. The plot proceeds with fluid grace and with that whiff of Thomas Hardy that marks the best of commercial Hindi cinema.

The first ever novel (at least to my knowledge) to have been published by an Indian Scot, Bombay Baby explores the process of self-actuation and is not yet another tired narrative of culture clash. In places, its timbre is redolent of the sharply crafted books-for-teens of Bali Rai, yet Soma’s fiction also evokes the brave new world of human (trans)formation, albeit rooted in a shared, conflicting Indo-Scottish history.

The story revolves around the profound experience of motherhood and the adaptation of human instinct to contemporary science fiction realities. This book might be said to be emblematic of the now normative dynamic of globalised society and its impact on both family structures and personal interiority.

Tina Wilson gets more than she bargained for – going upstream has implications. Might there be other grown-up embryos, other “Bombay babies”, wandering the streets of the world, searching for the right door on which to knock?

Ironically though, in the face of all this science, ultimately it is to Church and Family that Tina and her saintly beau, Andrew, turn in their hour of need.

One might intone (and one suspects that academic essayists and other reviewers may well do so) that Bombay Baby illustrates that, like its protagonist, the fiction of the South Asian diaspora has come of age, but really, such ring-fencing would be unjust to both the supposed genre and this engaging novel.

A refreshingly luminous book, Bombay Baby promises to do well in paperback and this would be a fitting tribute to the democratising narrative skills of the writer.

• Bombay Baby by Leela Soma, Dahlia Publishing, £12.99

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