THE SARI SHOP

Rupa Bajwa, Author . Norton $23.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-393-05922-9

Bajwa dramatically illustrates the class gap in contemporary India in her debut novel, focusing on the fortunes of Ramchand, a lowly, disaffected clerk in a popular sari shop. The novel opens with Ramchand happily going about his duties serving the shop's mostly upper-class clients. Opportunity for advancement comes from an unlikely source when he attracts the attention of the beautiful, literate Rina Kapoor, whose family hires the shop to provide saris for her upcoming wedding. Inspired by his foray into a wider world ("there were cars and flowerpots and frosted glass trays with peacocks on them"), Ramchand embarks on a half-baked self-improvement effort that includes a reading program and some unintentionally comic attempts to learn English. Shortly afterwards, though, Ramchand sees the other side of Indian life when the wife of one of his co-workers, a woman named Kamla, descends into public drunkenness. Ramchand is a tenderly drawn character, reminiscent of Naipaul's innocent strivers, and the rest of the cast is vividly sketched. There are several typical first-novel flaws: the narrative is slow in the first half, and Bajwa's transitions between her character-driven subplots are occasionally uneven and erratic. But Bajwa's loving attention to detail—Ramchand washing his feet with lemon juice before he visits the Kapoors, the malicious chatter of the sari-shopping ladies—paints a compelling, acerbic picture of urban India. Agent, Melanie Jackson. (June)

Reviewed on: 05/24/2004
Release date: 06/01/2004
Paperback - 224 pages - 978-0-393-32690-1
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