cover image Harbart


Nabarun Bhattacharya, trans. from the Bengali by Sunandini Banerjee. New Directions, $12.95 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2473-4

This nimble novel from Bhattacharya (1948–2014), his first translated into English, follows a young man in Calcutta who claims he can communicate with the dead. Readers know in the first chapter that Harbart has killed himself, and the reasons why unfold over the course of the book. Harbart, whose parents died when he was young and who has been largely ignored by his other family members, becomes close with his cousin Binu until Binu is shot and killed by the police. Soon after, Harbart has a vivid dream in which Binu speaks to him and reveals the location of his secret diary. This moment convinces Harbart of his ability to channel the dead, and soon others from around the world are visiting Harbart to communicate with deceased loved ones. Eventually, Harbart receives a letter that leads to his downfall, but the narrative has one final surprise up its sleeve in its closing pages. Bhattacharya’s slippery narrative slithers forward and sideways through time, and is complemented by the clever, often coarse prose (“Harbart saw that he was kneeling before ten enormous toenails growing out of someone’s two enormous feet”), resulting in an acute, idiosyncratic reading experience. (June)