Pity the poor Chawla family of Shahkot, India--their son, Sampath causes all kinds of trouble for his family, culminating in a Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard
, but in a village like Shakhot, hullabaloo is a way of life. Indian writer Kiran Desai begins her first novel with Sampath's birth at the tail-end of a terrible drought. His mother, Kulfi, half-maddened by heat and hunger, can think of nothing but food: "Her stomach grew larger. Her dreams of eating more extravagant. The house seemed to shrink. All about her the summer stretched white-hot into an infinite distance. Finally, in desperation for another landscape, she found a box of old crayons in the back of a cupboard and ... began to draw.... As her husband and mother-in-law retreated in horror, not daring to upset her or the baby still inside her, she drew a parade of cooks beheading goats." Sampath's father, Mr. Chawla is a man for whom "oddness, like aches and pains, fits of tears and lethargy" is a source of discomfort; he fears "these uncontrollable, messy puddles of life, the sticky humanness of things." This distaste for sticky humanness will prove problematic for Mr. Chawla later in life when his son grows up to become a young man possessed of a great deal of feeling and very little common sense or ambition.
Mr. Chawla's frustration comes to a head when Sampath loses his menial job at the post office after performing an impromptu cross-dressing strip-tease at his boss's daughter's wedding. Confined to the house in disgrace, Sampath runs away from home and takes refuge in the branches of a guava tree in an abandoned orchard outside of town. At first family and townsfolk think he's mad, but in an inspired moment of self-preservation Sampath, who had spent his time in the post office reading other people's mail, reveals some choice secrets about his persecutors and convinces them that he is, in fact, clairvoyant. It isn't long before Mr. Chawla sees the commercial possibilities of having a holy man in the family, and pretty soon the guava orchard has become the latest stop along the spiritual tourism trail.
Take one holy man in a guava tree, add a venal father, a food-obsessed mother and a younger sister in love with the Hungry Hop Kwality Ice Cream boy and you've got a recipe for delicious comedy. Mix in a rioting band of alcoholic monkeys, a journalist determined to expose Sampath as a fraud, an unholy trio of hypochondriac district medical officer, army general and university professor, all determined to solve the monkey problem, and you've got a real hullabaloo. Kiran Desai's delirious tale of love, faith, and family relationships is funny, smartly written, and reminiscent of other works by Indian authors writing in English such as Salman Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh, Banerjee Divakaruni's The Mistress of Spices and Shashi Tharoor's Show Business. --Alix Wilber
From School Library Journal
YA-This delightful romp is full of zany characters that wreak havoc on a village in India. Sampath, the ambitionless son of the middle-class Chawla family, wants to escape the looming responsibilities of his adult life. He decides to climb into a guava tree and live there in peaceful contemplation. The townspeople start to revere him as a holy man and seek his counsel for their problems. His enigmatic responses only increase their awe for him. His father reacts by looking at the commercial possibilities of having many pilgrims coming to see Sampath. His mother spends her days searching the countryside for rare and unusual food to prepare for him. His sister struggles to maintain her independence but falls hopelessly in love with the Hungry Hop Ice Cream boy. Inept bureaucrats, bungling army officers, a spy for the atheist society, and a herd of monkeys with a taste for liquor add to this hilariously irreverent story. With humor that transcends cultures, this funny story about a very eccentric family will appeal to many teens.Penny Stevens, Centreville Regional Library, Centreville, VA
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.