cover image Ghachar Ghochar

Ghachar Ghochar

Vivek Shanbhag, trans. from the Kannada by Srinath Perur. Penguin, $16 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-0-14-311168-9

“It is one of the strengths of families to pretend that they desire what is unavoidable.” For the unnamed narrator at the heart of this concise and mesmerizing novel, what is unavoidable for his family is their fraught commitment to one another, remaining together even though (or because) it’s this very solidarity that sends everyone else away. Set in Bangalore, the family members’ situation reflects that of 21st-century India itself, as they are intoxicated by and slightly unprepared for the surge of wealth in which they find themselves. The narrator is a tenuously married young man, whose uncle has started a spice business, altering almost overnight what had been the modest, hand-to-mouth existence their family had previously known. And yet when the family moves to a new home, the narrator’s mother is unnerved by the size of the kitchen, his sister rushes into a ridiculously opulent wedding only to find herself miserable with the groom, and the narrator himself becomes aimless, spending his days at a coffee shop, once he realizes that he earns the same salary whether he accomplishes anything or not. Day-to-day, the family members drink tea, share meals, and watch one another’s every move. Shanbhag has been a prolific writer in his native South Indian language of Kannada for decades, but this firecracker of a novel is the first of his work to be translated into English. Absorbing, insightful, and altogether a wonderful read. (Feb.)