cover image China Room

China Room

Sunjeev Sahota. Viking, $27 (256p) ISBN 978-0-593-29814-5

Sahota’s engaging latest (after The Year of the Runaways) follows a teenage bride in rural Punjab during the British Raj. Mehar Kaur was five years old when she was promised to one of three brothers. In 1929, Mehar, now 15, is married along with two other women to the three, but Mehar still does not know which is her husband. The women live and sleep in the china room, and are alone with their husbands only on those nights when they meet in an unlit room for sex. Mehar mistakenly comes to believe that Suraj, the youngest, is her husband, leading her to drop her veil and sleep with him one afternoon. Suraj realizes what happened but doesn’t want to give her up, and Mehar falls in love with him, leading to heartbreaking consequences. Mehar is seen and treated as property, yet Sahota manages to give her the illusion of agency, providing an empathetic look at how she would prefer the world to be. Woven within Mehar’s affecting narrative is the less-developed story of her great-grandson, an unnamed man who narrates in 2019, recalling the summer of 1999, when he was 18 and left England for Punjab to battle his heroin addiction. Though the various parts are uneven, it’s well worth the time. Agent: PJ Mark, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (July)