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A New World: A Novel Paperback – February 5, 2002

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Editorial Reviews Review

A relatively inconsequential plot provides the armature for Amit Chaudhuri's A New World: Jayojit Chatterjee, a recently divorced economics professor at an American college, returns home to Calcutta for a two-month holiday with his 7-year-old son, Bonny. Here he takes up residence in his parents' flat in a modern, characterless building. At once a son and a father, at home and displaced, he deals with the minutiae of each day and thinks about his failed marriage, his parents' health, his mother's cooking, his own weight gain, the neighbors, the weather, and the hired help.

Notable for the precision of his observations, Chaudhuri recounts small telling moments of daily life with a mannerliness that avoids looking squarely at the obvious dysfunction in the Chatterjee household, while at the same time obliquely illuminating the melancholy that pervades it. Once part of colonial India's military, Jayojit's now retired parents live lives of reduced circumstances--the rhythm of their days dictated by heat, a morning walk, a trip to the bank, the daily suspense over whether the maid will appear. Proud, affectionate, but inarticulate, they express their love through offers of food and financial news. Uncomplaining, Jayojit and Bonny endure the climate and ennui, and in a marginal, temporary way participate in a world that is no longer theirs. Chaudhuri's writing, like his characters, is admirable in its restraint, as in this passage in which he describes Jayojit's first morning in Calcutta:

Jayojit had woken up late, at eleven. He had had a bath, and then changed into a shirt and shorts. Wearing shorts exposed his large fair thighs and calves, covered with smooth strands of black hair. His mother seemed to notice nothing unusual about his clothes; parents accept that offspring who live abroad will appear to them in a slightly altered incarnation, and are even disappointed if they do not.
Thus formality and forbearance binds this family as much as love.

Hailed as a dazzling new talent in 1999 for Freedom Song, a collection of three novellas, Chaudhuri's remarkable accomplishment lies in the scope and complexity he paradoxically evokes in his exacting attention paid to mundane detail. --Victoria Jenkins --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

The still, shadowy languor of a sweltering Calcutta summer spent indoors suffuses this elegant but enervating novel by the author of the much-acclaimed trio of short novels, Freedom Song. Chaudhuri's protagonist, Jayojit Chatterjee, an ambitious professor at a Midwestern college, visits his native India in the wake of an ugly divorce and two abortive attempts to remarry. In Calcutta, he stays with his aging parents, his bluff father, a retired admiral, and his more traditional Bengali mother. The summer-long trip also gives him a chance to connect with his seldom-seen son and travel companion, seven-year-old Bonny, who spends the school year with his mother in California. But rather than focusing on the ravages of Jayojit's inner life and recent past, Chaudhuri avoids them, slipping the occasional flashback into the narrative while concentrating on detailsDa round of table tennis with Bonny, an orange-and-white sari, Jayojit's mother's oily breakfasts. As he demonstrated in Freedom Song, Chaudhuri has an eye for such minutiae, and his prose continues to be as rich and evocative as in his earlier effort. But while Freedom Song strung together a series of vignettes, here Chaudhuri struggles with the task of sustaining the reader's interest over the course of a full-length, albeit short, novel. The reader senses that the novel's heart is buried beneath its layers of description, but its emotional pulse proves elusive. (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (February 5, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 037572480X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375724800
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,233,770 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 11, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Amit Chaudhuri chronicles the return to Calcutta of an Indian-American who has recently been divorced. His arrival, his return to his parents' home, his re-immersion in Calcutta, his attempt to move through each unexceptional day -- all of these are the means by which this inarticulate and inadequate man tries to deal with the great crises which confront him. Those crises are, of course, the divorce and its aftermath, including his relations with the young son who joins him on this return to India; but they are as well the gap between himself and his own parents, who are of a different generation, who are aging, who do not understand the modern world and its habit of divorce.
The world is not always full of "sound and fury," as Amit Chaudhouri understands very well. Our destinies are worked out in the everyday, and we struggle as Wallace Stevens so aptly put it with "the maladies of the quotidian." It is the novel's triumph that these struggles reveal themselves beneath the everyday events Chaudhouri describes so well, and that a sense of loss and inadequacy permeates the quietly lyrical descriptions which are the substance of the novel.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By stackofbooks on September 14, 2002
Format: Hardcover
A New World, Chaudhuri's most recent novel, describes the summer spent by Dr. Jayojit Chatterjee, an economist in America, (and no, he does not know Dr. Amartya Sen!) who is back in Calcutta with his son, Bonny, after a divorce. Not much emotion rises to the surface, but Jayojit does mull over what went wrong with his marriage. His dad, the Admiral, meanwhile is busy leading a retired life complaining about the shoddy performance of banks and going out for his morning constitutionals. Joy's mother fusses over him and his son, frying "luchis" for breakfast and insisting that they eat them.
Chaudhuri does an absolutely brilliant job of describing the smallest of Indian transactions, such as a taxi ride or even business at the local bank. His sparse details of Jayojit's return to the US at the end of the summer, is heart-tuggingly accurate. In fact, this is the book that would tug at all kinds of strings for Indians across the diaspora. Chaudhuri's portraits of Jayojit's strained interactions with an environment at once familiar and strange to him are wonderful and something I could completely identify with. Also right on are the son, Bonny's, observations and comments about life around him. "Baba, what does "Kwality" mean?" he asks when he sees a van bearing the name on the streets. When his father explains that it is an ice cream truck, Bonny "lifts his chin from the (taxi) seat, and exclaims, "Ice cream?" as if, like doughnuts, ice cream was too outrageous to mention here."
While I loved all of Chaudhuri's precise details immensely (probably because of nostalgia stirred), occasionally his poetic descriptions of even the most basic of events started grating: "The sun dimmed, as if it had been snuffed out, and then kindled again as a cloud moved past.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Corinna Byer on February 16, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Amit's Chaudhuri's first collection of three small novels entitled Freedom Song won him great critical acclaim and raves, even from such master stylists as Salman Rushdie over the beauty and thoughtfulness of his writing. Yes, the writing in this collection is very poetic and well-crafted, but the stories themselves never truly went anywhere. Unfortunately, his new novel A New World, suffers the same fate. The plot is a potentially revealing, touching and illuminating one, despite the fact that its same basic outlines have been used and reused in many different novels. Such a talented writer as Chaudhuri ought to be able to make something interesting and captivating out of it. In the novel, a man who has been living in the US, makes his regular visit to his parents in India with his young son, of whom he has custody for the summer. He has private regrets, of his failed marriage, of his relationship with his parents, and personal worries about his son, which of course are brought out throughout the course of the novel. His parents naturally have their own concerns and worries about him. So, in many ways this is meant to be an exploration of family bonds, of the strange feelings which accompany returning home after a long absence, of cultural collision in general.
In short, the novel's structure is a great opportunity for a writer as skilled as Chaudhuri to really make an impact, to write something about families, about parents and children that really captures an essence which everyone has felt. But, as in the case of his previous novels, this one ultimately drags and refuses to move, and a reader, no matter how much he loves Chaudhuri's prose, and wants to like the novel, will find himself yawning.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The everyday lives of people are the same everywhere, even when there is little in common. Yet, the details of everyday life in India are so far removed from those in America that comparisons are nearly impossible.

If you have not read a book about India by an Indian author, this book would be a great choice for your first one. It is not the normal fare (which I love) of eight hundred pages and constant use of words from the various languages spoken in India.

Part of the difference is that Chaudhuri writes in English. Also, the main character, though born in India, has spent years in America. So, there is less of a cultural gap to be overcome in reading "A New World".

If you're looking for action, suspense or romance, then stay away from this one. If, however, you're looking for a well written story of real people doing real things and having real emotions, then grab this one. The Editorial Reviews above tell you more than you need to know about the plot.

The only reason I did not give this book five stars is that there wasn't enough of it. He could easily have written another hundred pages without changing the first or last chapters. I did enjoy it enough to buy three more of his books.
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