The Hero's Walk
, the second novel by Anita Rau Badami, is a big, intimate book, the kind that seldom strays beyond the doors of a single residence. Set in the sweltering streets of Toturpuram, a small city on the Bay of Bengal, The Hero's Walk
, which won the 2001 Commonwealth Writers Prize for best book in Canada and the Caribbean, explores the troubled life of Sripathi Rao, an unremarkable, middle-aged family man and advertising copywriter.
As The Hero's Walk opens, Sripathi's life is already in a state of thorough disrepair. His mother, a domineering, half-senile octogenarian, sits like a tyrant at the top of his household, frightening off his sister's suitors, chastising him for not having become a doctor, and brandishing her hypochondria and paranoia with sinister abandon. It is Sripathi's children, however, who pose the biggest problems: Arun, his son, is becoming dangerously involved in political activism, and Maya, his daughter, broke off her arranged engagement to a local man in order to wed a white Canadian. Sripathi's troubles come to a head when Maya and her husband are killed in an automobile accident, leaving their 7- year-old daughter, Nandana, without Canadian kin. Sripathi travels to Canada and brings his granddaughter home, while his family is shaken by a series of calamities that may, eventually, bring peace to their lives. --Jack Illingworth
From Publishers Weekly
The flowering of young writers of Indian origin continues with Badami's deeply resonant debut novel, which places her in the ranks of writers like Jhumpa Lahiri, Akhil Sharma and Manil Suri. The scion of a once wealthy, now down-at-the-heels Brahmin family, Sripathi Rao lives in the crumbling family manse in a small city on the Bay of Bengal. At 57, Sripathi is ill-tempered, emotionally constipated and a domestic tyrant a man riding for a fall. He struggles at a mediocre job to support his dragon of a mother, unmarried but lovelorn 44-year-old sister, subservient wife and layabout son. It's the perfect setup for a domestic comedy, until fate intervenes with the sudden deaths of his daughter, Maya, and her husband, in Vancouver. Guilt-ridden for having refused to communicate with Maya because she humiliated him by marrying out of her caste and race, Sripathi brings his seven-year-old orphaned granddaughter, Nandana, back to India. Badami's portrait of a bereft and bewildered child is both restrained and heartrending; Nandana has remained mute since her parents died, believing that they will someday return. In his own way, Sripathi is also mute, unable to express his grief and longing for his dead daughter. This poignant motif is perfectly balanced by Badami's eye for the ridiculous and her witty, pointed depiction of the contradictions of Indian society. She also writes candidly about the woes of underdevelopment the "stench of fish, human beings, diesel oil, food frying," poor drains, chaotic traffic and pervasive corruption. In the course of the narrative, everyone in Sripathi's family undergoes a life change, and in the moving denouement, reconciliation grows out of tragedy, and Sripathi understands "the chanciness of existence, and the hope and the loss that always accompanied life." A bestseller in Canada, where it was a Kiriyamaa Pacific Rim Book Award finalist, Badami's novel will delight those on the lookout for works by writers on the crest of the Indian wave. Author tour. (Apr. 27)
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