- File Size: 2884 KB
- Print Length: 350 pages
- Publisher: Final Word Books (January 22, 2015)
- Publication Date: January 22, 2015
- Sold by: Amazon.com Services LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B00SNIFYG6
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,384,424 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
|Print List Price:||$14.95|
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The Exiles: (The Two Krishnas) Kindle Edition
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The novel starts by focusing on Rahul, a workaholic who, like Dhalla, is an Indian man from Kenya, currently living in California. He and his wife, Pooja, have been married for many years, and they have a son, Ajay, who is also there. The story centers around Rahul, and the affair he’s having with a younger man named Atif. Rahul feels terrible that he’s cheating on his wife and can’t be open with his family, Pooja feels terrible because her husband is both cheating on her and- god forbid- gay, Atif feels terrible because Rahul is married and therefore can’t prioritize their relationship and is guilty about it even existing. It switches between their perspectives, as well as some of other characters, like Rahul’s son Ajay, or their neighbor, Sonali, giving a full scope of the narrative, and how these actions affect many people.
I will say one thing for Dhalla- he certainly knows a lot of words. But reading the novel just makes me wish that he could have spent more time with his manuscript and editor, because none of his big, ten-dollar words are inserted into the novel with any elegance or care. It felt like Dhalla kept trying to distract the reader with how gosh-darned smart he is so we wouldn't notice the gaping hole where normal narration is supposed to go. The result is as forced and unpleasant as shoving a square peg through a round hole The first time I remember the book losing me was at page 10, with the line “There was something starkly malapropos about such a rendezvous in summer's extended light.” If I can’t make it through the first 1% of your book without needed to pause to question both your word and life choices, your book needs some editing. Maybe I’m just being picky, but it seems like basic novel-writing- don’t include something that takes your readers out of the experience of reading your book. And definitely don’t write a line so pretentious that I have to tell every single person I know about it.
As for the actual content of the book, it’s dreary at the best of times, and almost offensive at the worst. Several offhand comments irked me, like Atif talking about how all the other gay men just wanted sex when he wanted a real relationship (way to perpetuate the stereotype that all gay men are sex-crazed maniacs), or Rahul complaining about how nobody reads anymore (I’m reading right now. Leave me alone!), but the ending to this novel was unforgivable. And I’m going to spoil it a little bit here- a gay man dies. And not only does he die, he is beaten to death for little more than the fact that he is a gay man, and all the parties who are still alive seem to have more sympathy and affection for the murderer than for the victim. It is an ending completely unearned by the narrative, and one that could be supported by some really quality writing, which the novel just doesn’t have. Am I supposed to hate every single character in this novel? Am I supposed to hate Dhalla himself? Is that the point, and I’m just missing it? I genuinely can’t tell if this awfulness is intentional, or if it just stems from Dhalla being careless and self-important.
As a queer person, I found this novel almost offensive. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t like being told I’m going to get a complex novel about love through adversity and instead getting a novel about misery and murder. I don’t like reading a book written by a gay man in which the most prominent gay-identifying character is killed off as a twist ending (because that’s soooooo edgy, isn’t it?) and then homosexuality is blamed for the motivation it. I don’t like being told by someone who is like me in the most fundamental way I can imagine- the ability to love- that “it’s rare to find unadulterated happiness because it is impossible to get what you want without hurting another” (319). This isn’t said by any of the characters, mind- this is just narration. This is just an out of character statement that Dhalla left there, like a bag of dog poo on a doorstep. No one in this novel is happy, and when they try to make themselves happy, they just make everyone else miserable. Or dead. Someone dies and they barely blame his murderer at all.
I genuinely have no idea who this book is supposed to appeal to. I’d imagine (or hope, at least) that most people in the LGBT+ community are as fed up with this tired “Bury Your Gays” trope as I am. And I imagine any homophobe wouldnt willingly read a novel in which one of the characters is in a relationship with a man, even if the homophobic ideas are the ones presented most sympathetically. Who is this book for?
Well, not me, certainly.
Would not recommend, even if it was the last book on Earth, and I fully intend on taking my copy and destroying it, so no one else accidentally reads it ever. If I could give it 0 stars, I would.
Rahul and Pooja Kapoor fled their home in Kenya (there is a separate section in the book that explains their extirpation) and settled in Los Angeles where they had a son Ajay and Rahul became a banker. Pooja happily accepted her role as wife and mother and in reproducing the culinary finery of Indian cuisine both at home and for a restaurant/shop, The Banyan. run by her dear friend Charlie and his runner Greg who prefers to be called Parmesh due his desire to be of Indian rather than Jewish heritage. The story begins some years after their arrival when Ajay has become a healthy hunk of a lad looking for a college. Rahul has grown distant - his relationship with Ajay borders on formal and his attention to his beautiful wife's needs has waned. Pooja yearns for the sensuality of the early days of their marriage but finds solace in looking after her handsome son, her cooking, and her friend Sonali - a flamboyant neighbor friend who loves to gossip. Rahul is an atheist and has divorced himself from his past. He bears a strange inner longing that surfaces in a bookstore when he makes eye contact with a handsome storekeeper Atif, a Muslim from Mumbai who seems comfortable with his life: Atif is the age of Rahul's son Ajay. The look is returned and shortly the two men discover their sensual feelings and begin an affair. Rahul attempts to keep both sides of his emotional life alive - he is still devoted to Pooja and Ajay but for the first time since a tragic childhood experience he is in touch with his sexuality. Pooja notes the growing distance between them but it is not until Sonali spies on Rahul and Atif in embrace that Pooja must face the fact that her husband has found love with a man. The manner in which Pooja and Rahul cope with the change winds into an ending that is profoundly surprising.
One of the many gifts of Dhalla is his comfortable manipulation of Hindu words and customs and aromas and traditions: he weaves a multifaceted mandala that teaches the readers so much about Indian culture. He also surveys many of the beliefs and myths of Hinduism that offer explanations of human behavior, including sexuality, that is very well considered and informative. His dialogue is peppered with influences from Muslim thought (from Atif) and Hindu thought (from Pooja): it is also smoothly sophisticated in construction in a way that makes his very sensual love scenes excitingly poetic and credible. There is so much in this novel to mesmerize the reader that words in a review falter in attempting to express the impact of this fine novel. Rarely has a love story in all its facets and permutations been so consistently effective and affecting. Ghalib Shiraz Dhalla is an inordinately gifted writer - one of our best. His gift is extravagant but it is also keenly honed in subtlety. We should be hearing a lot more about him in the coming months and years. Grady Harp, September 11