Suketu Mehta released a book recently. For those of you who read voraciously, that is an important publishing event. The man’s Maximum City on Mumbai has become a beaten-to-death euphemism for the city in college essays and newspapers. And the fact that What Is Remembered is a fiction piece, a novella, makes for more excitement. Exclusively available of the Juggernaut app for a mere 30 rupees, the book is definitely a minor coup pulled off by the publishers.
But, what if you wanted to check a review before downloading the book? These days, that is the tricky part. Just like film reviewing has also become confusing (we don’t know who is getting paid by the producer and who isn’t) these days, book reviews are leaving us equally confounded.
This is what The Wire wrote about Mehta’s What Is Remembered:
Suketu Mehta has written the Indian immigrant novel to end all Indian immigrant novels. It is an object lesson on all that is wrong about this genre – the classism, the casteism, the unquestioning reverence for religion, terrible tellings of history and Orientalist clichés. For good measure it includes Naipaulian sneering at the poor, without Naipaul’s searing, honest self-loathing, as well as Rushdie-like magical realism, with neither magic nor realism.
And this is what Scroll.in posted in their review of the book later the same evening:
There are delicious tales in here, evoking the reader’s own memories, past or future, of other writers from the world’s literatures, intoxicating cocktails of personal and political history, of philosophy and logic, of family intrigue and loneliness.
While The Wire thrashes the book, ripping apart every word, calling it casteist and classist and slapping accusations like “bad history lessons” and “bad magic realism”, Scroll.in calls it a “frenetic mixture of memory and desire” and draws parallels with Borges in every other paragraph. While we have no clue whom to follow, the reviews themselves were a fun read – one deliciously bitchy (almost seems like the author has a personal axe to grind) while the other dripping with sugary compliments (just like we always “love” everything our BFFs post on social media?)
Well, the truth of the wine is in tasting it they say, so go ahead and spend that 30 bucks and decide for yourself. That’s what I did. And no, I am not sharing my opinion to confuse you further. Although, here’s a taster from the book:
Mahesh walked around the building but could not remember his mother’s name. As he drove towards the airport exit, regretting the time wasted on this trip, some momentary and utterly unprecedented lapse in efficiency caused Mahesh to misread the signs and drive into the taxi lanes outside the International Arrivals Building. Mahesh cursed himself and figured that he’d screwed up as a result of being around too many damn Indians all at once.
But now he was in the taxi lanes, and he found an entire Indian family in front of his car, swarming all around it. They opened his doors and poured in, ignoring his protests. One of them had opened his trunk and started to dump heavy objects in. Mahesh could hear the thud of the suitcases, feel the car sagging under their weight. The car was packed with Indians. He felt like he was being kidnapped by terrorists.
‘Jackson Heights,’ said the man who was now sitting next to him and shutting the door.
‘I’m not a cabbie,’ said Mahesh.
‘Look, how much you want? My old parents are already sitting here with their luggage. You want them to go where? But,’ said the man, scrutinizing Mahesh, ‘you are desi yourself! Gujarati, right? These could be your own parents! Half an hour we are waiting in the rain! How much you want?’
Mahesh was shocked that the man had recognized him so easily. He sat behind the wheel unable to speak a word. The family showed no signs of moving. Mahesh didn’t want to make a scene. Maybe this place was nearby. He could drop them off and go his way. He put the car into gear. ‘I don’t know where this place is…this…’ Mahesh said to the man next to him.
‘Jackson Heights,’ said the man, his accent making it sound like ‘Jaikisan Heights’. He gave Mahesh directions.