cover image BABYJI


Abha Dawesar, . . Anchor, $13 (368pp) ISBN 978-1-4000-3456-7

Anamika's the kind of girl her traditional peers aren't quite sure about: is the sexually precocious heroine of Dawesar's second novel (after Miniplanner ) a feminine Didi or a masculine Bhaiyya , a cerebral schoolgirl or a predatory lecher? After studying chaos theory in her high school physics textbook, Anamika feels justified in pursuing three simultaneous same-sex affairs, with her doting servant, her impressionable schoolmate and a beautiful older woman who inspires such complicated feelings that Anamika nicknames her India, after their vast and varied homeland. Anamika uses sex as a means to investigate life's chemistry and her autonomy outside of rigid Brahmin mores. Despite the intensity of her passion, particularly for India, Anamika's comic stiffness is evident in such amorous declarations as "I want to collapse my wave function into you." As issues of caste, meritocracy and self-sacrifice arise, Anamika purifies her intentions by channeling them into helping a troubled male student, Chakra Dev, who's almost as oversexed as she is. If the unusual secondary characters occasionally seem as gratuitous as pornographic movie extras, Anamika's ponderings and emotional reversals are lavished with as much attention as a 16-year-old girl would demand. Despite its meandering path, the novel achieves an impressive balance between moral inquiry and decadent pleasure, pleasing the intellect and the senses—if not necessarily the heart—of the open-minded reader. Agent, Ira Silverberg. (Feb.)