The personal is, indeed, the politi-cal. In The Point of Return, Siddartha Deb navigates the rocky terrain of family relationships, especially the often complicated and dimensional relationship of father and son, seeking to answer the unarticulated question: are blood ties the most important?
At the outset, it must be stated that a story in reverse chronological order is a tough assignment even for the most seasoned writer; it can be a tough assignment for a seasoned reader as well. Fortunately, Deb’s writing is so fluid, so poetic and at times dreamlike, the reader may forget where in time the story really is. Not necessarily a good thing, but the writing makes up for it.
Dr. Dam is a Hindu veterinary surgeon who flees Bengal during the upheaval of partition in 1947. Settling in the northeastern state of Assam, Dr. Dam, and by extension, his son Babu, will always feel like the perennial, unwelcome newcomers. Dr. Dam is an ever-accommodating, loyal civil servant, scrupulously uncorrupted in an environment that rewards just the opposite. To say that this makes his life difficult is an understatement, and looms over the entire narrative: that not playing by the rules that have been set lays the stage for uncertainty, grief, and a lifetime of struggles. Being a person of dignity and principles is not for the faint of heart.
Babu is an astute observer of the world around him and perhaps his father’s staunchest critic. Cringing at his father’s interactions with those in power, and seeing them as inferior beings compared to his father in character and achievements, causes Babu to vow to live a life without the bowing and scraping that has been the hallmark of Dr. Dam’s life. But the life that we anticipate rarely comes to fruition and Babu’s will be strewn with memories that he explores strenuously in an effort to understand both his father’s life and his own.
Told in a spare and hallucinatory style, this narrative is a magnificent achievement for a first-time novelist. The lives of both Dr. Dam and Babu, seen through the often murky and unreliable lens of Babu’s memory, are by turns tragic and poignant:
Over the years, memory has taken on the greater share of this burden, each step up in the world resulting in the disappearance of one more artifact from those days. But memory must deal with so much more that is flung in its path by life; it must adjust itself constantly to the headlong rush of the present into the past.
THE SUPREME MYSTIC by Amal Bhakta. Turnkey Press. www.turnkeypress.com. Paperback, 348 pages, $17.95.
The conversations sound contemporary but this novel about Lord Krishna’s fascinating childhood and youth is based on the ancient scripture Srimad Bhagvatam. Amal Bhakta’s easy narrative style makes each of the episodes—escape from Kamsa at birth, adoption by Yashoda and Nanda, killing of demoness Putana, love and play with milkmaids, and the Lord’s many entertaining pranks—accessible to the modern reader.
By retelling this ancient Hindu story in present-day American language Bhakta underscores the universality of divine love.