The Blue Bedspread

Raj Kamal Jha, Author Random House (NY) $21.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-375-50312-2
A family legacy of incest, violence, alcoholism and isolation comes under sudden and unflinching scrutiny as an unnamed middle-aged man in present-day Calcutta documents his family history for the future reading of a newborn niece. When the police call late at night to tell him his sister has died in childbirth, the man collects the infant and springs into action, desperately writing down family memories and his own, which he must complete before foster parents come to collect the baby in the morning. As he writes, the tiny girl sleeps on the same blue bedspread that he remembers as a talisman from his own childhood. Shifting back and forth in time he crafts a series of telling vignettes focused principally on his sister, himself, the mother he hardly remembers and his abusive father. Probing universal mysteries of ontology as well as dark family secrets, he strives to reveal the forces that shape all of their identities. First novelist Jha writes a spare, meditative prose, largely bereft of dialogue and grounded in meticulous physical description. Rhythmic repetition and brief flourishes lend the narrative a flavor of traditional oral storytelling, despite contemporary themes. Glimpses of life in India over the narrator's lifetime and carefully selected details--white and gray pigeons, an albino cockroach, foreign magazines, old maps--color a tale that nonetheless has a timeless quality. This is an impressive debut in which Jha achieves an engaging balance between the modern and the classic, the universal and the deeply personal. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
Ebook - 978-0-330-47449-8
Hardcover - 228 pages - 978-0-330-37385-2
Paperback - 240 pages - 978-0-15-601088-7
Open Ebook - 115 pages - 978-0-307-81934-5
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