on October 16, 2006
This book is odd to me, because it's lushly written-- I can smell the frangipani that Anuradha braids into her hair, hear the peacocks screeching, taste the dust that rises as the rickshaws trundle down the street-- but at the same time the lushness convolutes and confuses. The author, Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi, has a true talent for description, but sometimes he loses control of himself and indulges in prose that becomes positively violet (especially in the sex scenes with all the phallic worship):
"...the restless, hungry baton in his trousers..."
"...the adamantine sumptuousness of his manhood: a proud, thick, succulent thing had found its home..."
"...a member between his legs that was lonely and strong willed and utterly gorgeous inside its own confusion..."
What in the world does that last one even mean? The "c0ck yay!" enthusiasm gets a bit old after a while, and the attitude toward it becomes, "Yes, yes, we know c0ck is king. Can we get back to the story now?"
...on the other hand, we have little witticisms that amuse me enough to redeem the above indiscretions about 20%, such as the following:
"Are you a star?" he asked.
"No," she replied, "I'm an entire constellation."
The pacing is languid, as befits a story set in turn-of-the-century India. It unravels at its own pace, with flashbacks that are handled with subtlety and without feeling intrusive or clumsy. Shanghvi doesn't rush through anything, is in no hurry to chivvy the plot along, but somehow it's all so interesting we don't care and are content to go along with him, trusting him to get us where we need to go.
I'm not crazy about the foreshadowing, however, which occurs with all the finesse of a mallet to the skull. And the dialogue is too contemporary far too often-- doesn't sound in the least like something people in post-colonial India would say in the 1920's. There's a clear feminist theme, here, as well as pro-gay overtones, both of which feel forced, like there's an agenda behind them. I've always felt that if you're going for social commentary in your fiction, it shouldn't hit you like an arrow through the neck.
It's irritating when the vicious old bat of the story (you knew there was going to be one, right?) has entire conversations with her equally malicious parrot, and the anthropomorphization of the house in which they live seems a bit batty. There's a weird quasi-magical subtheme that's more puzzling than intriguing-- a red herring that adds questionable merit to the overall story, is never explained or justified-- we're supposed to accept it without questioning.
Well, to hell with that. I question, baby, and I want answers: why do the women of Anuradha's family have the ability to work magic with their songs? Is Mohan a prodigy or some sort of divine creature? Is the house really alive and cranky? How is Nandini able to walk on water? Can it be possible for her to be the descendent of a human/leopard union?
The characterization is over-the-top, much of the time: there are three main characters, and they're all bewitchingly attractive, and their faults are never true faults (i.e. things that risk making the reader dislike them). They are, instead, faults that are supposed to make us like the characters all the more: Vardhmaan can't get over the grief of losing his son, but wouldn't we think him a less-than-devoted sire if he sprang back so quickly and easily? Nandini's wild, fey ways are meant to fascinate more than repel (such as when she tells Gandhi his loincloth is hopelessly sexy-- we're supposed to be delighted by that rampant iconoclasty, and it shows).
And the nasty crone, Devi-bai, is a caricature of the evil stepmother... until they move out of the house, and then her wicked influence over their lives abruptly ends. What sort of antagonist is that? No bad guy worth their salt would just let themselves be written out of the book halfway through and let a possessed house take over the role. Unless she's not the antagonist of the story, in which case it should be made clearer because it's confusing.
The book does succeed in submerging the reader into the world of 1920's India, and the characters and plot are compelling enough to keep one reading instead of putting it aside, but overly lurid phrasing, anachronisms of speech, and whacked-out mystic occurences jolt one's suspension of disbelief and call attention to the ultimate weakness of the prose.
As a first novel, The Last Song of Dusk is excellent, achieving a dreamlike surreality that other, more experienced writers strive (and fail) to accomplish, but in comparison to other authors (masters) of this genre (Isabel Allende, Arundhati Roy) it's clear where he's being imitative, rather than intuitive.
on October 7, 2012
I think I should first note that the biggest, most fundamental problem with this book is the plot sucks and Shanghvi relies on shocking content/declarations and magical realism to distract from this. It does not really make sense, it is incredibly forced. The characters do not make rational decisions. It does not make any sense why the book ended up like it did.
I like the idea of this book, but if fails completely at its goal. There is nothing about love in this book. This book is about pain. The central premise is really not about love and finding love and the effects of love. The central premise is about how crappy things happen to people and that justifies them for doing crappy things to other people. There is no fate in this book at all. Everything that happens, the characters choose to let happen. The only thing that can be said to be fate are Mohan's death and the character's back stories. Everything that occurs in the novel did not have to happen, the characters just chose to let it happen. There are books that express fate well, this book does not.
The back text says that after the death of their son "the couple attempts to mend their marriage." Yeah, they don't do that. Unless "mending" their marriage is not talking to each other and being melancholy. They loose their child, which is traumatic. They don't try to mend their marriage, they just decide that it is broken and then just get used to silence. They never discuss anything, they just feel guilty the whole time about not talking and it is supposed to be this big poetic exploration about love, because in true love apparently there is no communication?
Let me make this clear: Shanghvi knows nothing about love. Absolutely nothing. He knows a lot about lust and passion and expresses those well, but nothing at all about love.
Nandni's relationships...fate? Really Shanghvi? That was fate? When she was like, wow you make me so happy, but I have to go wreck someone else's marriage so I am "fated" to not marry you so that I can be "fated" to spend the rest of my life regretting not marrying you. Or she could have just said, wow, I love you, you make me so happy, let's have our own relationship. No, that can't happen, because this story is about "love" so Nandni rips out the guys heart and steps on it, wrecks someone else's marriage (by murdering the fiance, no less. Remember the theme of "if something bad happens to me, it justifies doing awful things to someone else?), realizes she can't marry the guy, then spends the rest of her life melancholy wondering why oh why fate took her first love from her, so cruel! No, so much bs. Like I said, this novel is about pain. Nandni had some crappy things happen to her, so that justifies her in causing pain to Sherman. Vardhmann had some awful things happen to him, which justified him in doing cruel things to Anuradha.
See, the sickest part of this novel is the central moving point, which is the love of Edward. Except Edward's "love" is essentially like the plot of the move Obsessed, for those of you who have seen it. Edward is basically one of those people who say "love me or I will kill myself." Those, mentally ill, manipulative people who try to force their own way. Edward had some crappy stuff happen to him, which justifies him in later doing awful things to Anuradha, Nandni, Vardhmann, and Shokla. Also, Edward kills a dog. Being denied your love apparently justifies torturing and killing a dog. It basically explodes. Okay? Do you understand that? Shanghvi's book about love suggests that if you don't get what you want in "love" which is still "selfless" you are perfectly justified in mutilating small animals. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a gay love story. Actually I wish this novel were about Vardhman and Arjun or something rather than Anuradha. That would have been a tragically poetic love story worth reading. Shanghvi only describes male sex organs and sexuality in detail anyways, so just make it a gay love story. Make it tragic, make it hurt. Fate would make sense there. But my take away here is that Edward is a twisted, spoiled brat who privileges his own existence and makes homosexuals look like soulless monsters. The other homosexual character, Libya Dass, who is also something of a tragic character, is much easier to sympathize with. I hated Edward and the stupid house, but Libya was wonderful.
Also, for some reason Shanghvi takes some pretty hard jabs at Virginia Woolf that completely misrepresent her. I am not exactly sure what he is trying to do with this novel ideologically, because I am pretty sure what with her women's rights stuff and her stances on sexuality and all that, Woolf would have been on board with a lot of Shanghvi's ideas. Except, you must remember that the central idea of "love" to Shanghvi is the deliciousness of revenge and pain, not any positive aspect of love. Anyhow, despite disliking it, I am glad I read this so I can use it to contextualize modern Indian literature, but if I ever was in the situation in which I was suddenly, desperately limited in my bookshelf space and had to absolutely destroy the texts that would not fit, between Woolf and Shanghvi I wouldn't have to even think about it before tossing him away.
If you really are looking for those beautiful/painful stories about love and loss, don't waste your time with any of Shanghvi's books. The Last Flamingoes of Bombay is better than The Last Song of Dusk, but don't bother. Start with Jhumpa Lahiri instead. She does everything Shanghvi is trying to do so much better. Her three books are beyond excellent.
Oh, one other problem with this book: it definitely advocates having sex with children and the sexualizing of children. Multiple people have consensual sex with Nandini starting when she is fourteen. He doesn't do it in an "oh my gosh, this is awful, why do we allow this" kind of way like Toni Morrison does so well. He does it in a wow, Nandni is sexy, now she is having sex with adults kind of way. It is not okay to portray this.
on November 17, 2014
Last Song of Dusk: Sidharth Dhanvant Sanghvi
I just finished this essentially wonderful piece of literary art work. The author has the profound ability to express his thoughts, in a beautiful concoction of words. And for sure, he stretches and expresses his imagination far away and moulds them into a dreamlike reality.
The novel, set in the pre-independence era, takes us through the life of a modern young girl, from the state of Rajasthan, married to a doctor in Mumbai.
This book vastly differs from Sanghvi's other novel, 'Lost Flamingoes of Bombay' which , set in the backdrop of the Jessica Lal murder case, failed to ignite the spark of novelty for the reader.
Last Song of Dusk has beautifully captured the essence of sorrow and longing in Anuradha, a tempest fire in Nandini, who faces the world like a wall, but is fallible to her innate problem and Vardhaman, who leads a life filled with a guilt, he is never able to overcome.
Other than that, the various insinuations to the not so normal sexual exploits of various characters in the story, expose the reader to a window, where not many have would have set sight before.
I would defintiely recommend atleast a one time read, for a unique style of writing and imaginative prowess of the author.
on October 4, 2004
We are living in rich era of Indian literature and here is another author to embrace. Unlike the professional reviewers who finished this novel at one sitting, I had to take the first part of this book in small doses. It was too strong, too rich, too surprising, and too ominous. Lurking nastily in the house with Anuradha and Vardhmaan is an evil and ruthless mother-in-law who drove me away from the book for days. Next, the very house to which the lovers flee takes over plotting against them. When I finally screwed up my courage, I too finished the book in one evening. At the last page, I turned the book over and started reading it all over again. This time I'll try to figure out the meaning of the magical elements and try to see how the Nandini subplot influences the story of Anuradha. On first reading, I don't understand the end of the story, which may just be too realistically sad.
The Last Song of Dusk marks the debut of yet another imaginative Indian author who writes in hyperbole and lush, sweeping strokes. Beautiful, impish Arunradha, with a voice to which "even the moon listens" marries the handsome doctor Vardhmaan, whose stories win her heart. The two become best friends and lovers, with such intimacy that it seems as though nothing can come between them. Even Vardhmaan's evil stepmother Divi-bai cannot drive them apart. But when their beloved and charmed son Mohan is sucked from his room into a tree, then dropped, Divi-bai finds their weakness, and all changes between them. Eventually, they move to an malevolent house with Arunradha's wild teenage cousin Nandina, who sets about to make her mark on Bombay society and the world. The three struggle to find the answer to the question, "Is love enough?"
Reminiscent in parts of the work of Chitra Divakaruni, Arundhati Roy, and Isabelle Allende, The Last Song of Dusk explores the meaning of love in an occasionally magical world where houses have intentions and women mate with panthers. The novel falters when it brings in historical figures such as Gandhi since the novel's strength lies in the smaller, more believable moments. The language, although often seductive, can be overblown, but Shanghvi's passion for storytelling and his characters resonates in every sentence. Even when he fails, he picks up the narrative and continues toward the resolution with authority.
Recommended for a general readership, particularly for those who enjoyed The God of Small Things (Roy) and The House of Spirits (Allende.) While The Last Song of Dusk doesn't approach the success of either, it occupies a spot in the same literary tradition.
on July 14, 2007
I have mixed feelings about this book. It kind of reminds me of those kids in school who you knew were absolutely brilliant and capable of straight A's, yet managed only a B average. Shanghvi's prose is lush, his analogies satisfying, yet he almost drowns himself in his own script as the book moves on. The characters are certainly interesting, yet lose their momentum towards the end of the novel. The plot loses it's zest, becoming bogged down in his own philosophical reveries that can exhaust the reader with it's ambiguity (which you could argue, is the point, however, there is only so much ambiguity a reader can take). I look forward to what this writer will produce in the future, and, considering this was his first novel, I'd say he did a good job overall.
on November 12, 2004
My first reading of THE LAST SONG OF DUSK was a greatly enjoyable experience. The story has lingered on my mind since, compelling me often to revisit. Now, when I start rereading at whatever page I happen to flip, I immediately get caught up again in its enticing storytelling and the lives of its fascinating characters. Succumbing once more to the tale's magic, melancholy and sensuality, I wonder, shed a tear, chuckle, reflect or heave a sigh. As in eating an Indian curry, I savor the various flavors, the salt of sadness, the sweetness of love and friendship, the piquant spice of sexy passages... all of it steeped in poetry.
I highly recommend readers to partake of this delightful curry that Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi so lovingly and ably prepared for us.
on June 11, 2006
From the moment I started reading this novel I was captivated by the beauty of Shanghvi's words. But as the story moved on it got more and more unrealistic. The characters and what they stood for was all far too ambitious and I lost interest, I just stuck through it to find out what happened. It is beautifully written but thats about it. Shanghvi tried to take the story into a million different directions but it did not work out. I wish it were a lot more simpler and honest
on March 24, 2009
Reading this book was a sheer waste of my precious time. It is highly unrealistic and lacks substance in ways more than one. I read this book after I read "The lost Flamingoes of Bombay" which I thoroughly enjoyed... and must admit I was disappointed with this book.
Sanghvi has borrowed Arundhati Roys style of writing but has fallen flat on his face! Most of the characters were unrealistic apart from Anuradha and Vardhaman and of course the wicked mother in law Divi Bai...
on March 15, 2011
I didn't finish it. A friend recommended the author but I couldn't get into the book. Some may like it better than I.