cover image The Grammarian

The Grammarian

Annapurna Potluri. Counterpoint, $24 (272p) ISBN 978-1-61902-102-0

Potluri's stunning debut novel, set in India as the 20th century dawns, follows the journey of French linguist, Alexandre Lautens, as he travels to the English dominated south to complete a first-of-its-kind grammar of Telugu, a language less well-known to the West than Hindi, and which because of its musical qualities is known as the "Italian of the East." Lautens gets a unique glimpse into upper class Indian life when he's invited to stay with the anglophilic Adivi family at their palatial home, complete with lower caste servants who attend to Lauten's every want. Lautens befriends Adivi's mother, the frank and wise Kanakadurga, who lives with the family, as well as Adivi's intelligent and less beautiful older daughter, Anjali, whose leg has been withered by polio, but who takes an interest in helping Lautens with his work. A lopsided romance blooms, leaving both Lautens and Anjali in a precarious position, augmented by Anjali's interest in nationalist activism. Potluri's description of the sounds and grammar of Telugu, as well as her sensual description of domestic elements, suffuse the text with richness, while her gorgeous portrayal of south Indian culture remains firmly grounded: the ideal and beautiful sharing close quarters with the grotesque and problematic. (Feb.)