Play House

Saikat Majumbar. Permanent, $28 (224p) ISBN 978-1-57962-497-2
This subtle coming-of-age novel set in 1985 India grabs the reader’s attention with its enigmatic opening sentence: “Disaster came early in Ori’s life, at the age of five, the first time he saw his mother die.” Majumbar (Silverfish) quickly explains the context for that ominous statement: Ori’s mother, Garima Basu, is a prominent actress, and the young Ori saw her perish onstage during a performance. By age 10, Ori, who lives a short walk from India’s legendary Ganges River, has become obsessed with the theater (“The stage drew him like a magnet. Its warm fragrance drove him mad”), but his mother has let him act with her only once and dismisses with scorn any idea of a repeat performance. His hopes are encouraged by an unsettling backstage encounter with Ahin Mullick, the producer of one of his mother’s plays, who helps Ori remove his shirt and touches his chest. As Ori puts on another shirt at Ahin’s request, his mother appears. She announces that her boy has no time to act and removes him from the theater. Majumbar succeeds in making his unusual lead sympathetic. The tale takes some unexpected turns en route to the ambiguous ending. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/17/2017
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