cover image Small Deaths

Small Deaths

Rijula Das. Amazon Crossing, $24.95 (312p) ISBN 978-1-5420-3667-2

Das’s searing debut centers on the plight of sex workers in contemporary Calcutta, India. Cell phones now enable sex workers to make their own deals, so pimps and madams have been forced to diversify their activities, bribe more officials, and take harsh measures against those who flout their “arrangements.” One night at the Blue Lotus, an infamous red-light establishment run by autocratic Shefali Madam, Maya, a high-end escort, is murdered, her throat cut with a broken bottle. Shafali Madam asks Maya’s friend Lalee, sold into prostitution at seven by her father, to replace Maya. Lalee and Tilu Shau, a low caste writer of erotic fiction who loves Lalee, are drawn into a complex world of vicious religious chicanery being secretly investigated by the Sex Workers’ Collective. Das effectively reveals a painful paradox: the exploited workers frequently consider the brothel their only home in a land that can “overwhelm one with kindness one minute and skin you alive the next.” This devastating novel is in turn touching and painful to read. Das, a Bengali-to-English translator, is definitely a writer to watch. Agent: Maria Cardona Serra, Pontas Agency. (Sept.)