cover image The Way Things Were

The Way Things Were

Aatish Taseer. FSG/Faber and Faber, $28 (576p) ISBN 978-0-86547-824-4

Taseer's (Noon) sprawling epic about two generations of a privileged Indian family will leave readers intoxicated. Toby, a maharaja, has immersed himself in the study of Sanskrit; this intellectualism is, for a time, exciting to his wife, Uma, but it's soon revealed to be a way of distancing himself from Indian life. The story begins with Toby's death and his son Skanda's return to India from Manhattan to carry out the funeral rites, and it moves back and forth over a 30-year period, mirroring the unrest of the country from the state of emergency declared by Indira Gandhi to the present. Skanda is forced to confront the fact that he has inherited his father's detachment and must try to make sense of his own broken childhood. He resolves to move forward without repeating his father's mistakes and makes peace with his history. Authors often attempt to frame a given period of a country's history through a single family's story, but Taseer's book is a cut above the rest. Colonialism, racism, sectarian violence, class tension, and the rise of the Indian nouveau riche are all handled with a delicate touch. This is a difficult book to put down, and readers will enjoy every minute of it, as well as learning about contemporary Indian culture. (July)