cover image Love and Longing in Bombay: Stories

Love and Longing in Bombay: Stories

Vikram Chandra. Little Brown and Company, $22.45 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-316-13307-4

Five interconnecting stories set in modern Bombay provide the framework of this immensely absorbing book by the author of Red Earth and Pouring Rain. The narrator, Ranjit Sharma, a young software company employee, is drawn into the orbit of wise, retired civil servant Shiv Subramaniam, who serves as a kind of Scheherazade, telling stories that encompass many levels of human experience and subtly reveal the social and cultural levels of teeming Bombay. For four successive nights, Subramaniam holds court at the Fisherman's Rest bar; the last night Sharma comes to Subramaniam's home, where he learns something surprising about the old man himself. Each time, Subramaniam chooses storytelling to elude direct talk about a vexing question; the stories illustrate his answers. In ""Dharma,"" a military man who had amputated his own leg without anesthesia, finds his family home haunted by the ghost of a boy who reminds him of a childhood tragedy. ""Shakti"" slyly paints the vivid portraits of two ambitious society women and their wary alliance. The central story, ""Kama,"" is a bleak descent into the heart of darkness of Bombay corruption. ""Artha,"" a more conceptual story within a story within a story, is about a young computer specialist whose contempt for Art as a language changes when his male lover disappears. Finally, ""Shanti"" is a tender account of Subramaniam's significant encounter with a woman who, like him, had lost illusions about life while surviving WWII. Impeccably controlled, intelligent, sensuous and sometimes grim, Chandra's timeless and timely book is remarkably life-affirming, considering the dark areas of the heart he explores. U.K. rights to Faber & Faber. (Mar.)