Categorized | Literature

Book Review: “The Distance” by Saborna Roychowdhury: Hit or Miss?

Posted on 20 January 2010 by .

My rating: 3/5 I am usually skeptical about picking up new authors unless I have read or heard good things about them. Similarly, when I came across Saborna Roychowdhury’s first novel “The Distance”, I was not sure what I should be prepared for. Naturally, I looked towards the background of the writer before I embarked on the journey of reading a completely new story.

Roychowdhury’s past boasts of several short stories in various U.S magazines and a nomination for the Pushcart. With this information reassuring me, I embarked on the journey of discovering a new author. And what did I find?

An interesting coming of age story that deals with the inner turmoil of a girl/woman who has to choose between duty and desire. It could have been slated in the category of a classic clichéd tale of a South Asian woman caught in a love triangle. Except, it has more to it. It is also a tale a woman who chooses to go abroad via marriage to escape a stagnant life back in oppressive Calcutta, and to forget her activist no-future lover, Amitav, who drags her further into the heart of a struggle against the corrupt system. We come face-to-face with a character whose roots prevent her to completely assimilate herself in a new environment (Vancouver) thousands of miles away from “home” and truly love her husband, Neel, who also has ambitions of his own. For Mini, home not only means the little crowded apartment she grew up in but also the many memories that contribute to the true essence of her character.

However, the book is not glitch free. I personally feel that any good editor could have fixed minor little details that make reading a slight inconvenience. On one page, it is noted that Neel, is allergic to eggs. However, on another page, Neel and Mini carry egg curry and rice on a day trip to save money. Another instance is Neel’s and Mini’s stay in Vancouver is noted to be five years at the beginning of a chapter, but throughout the book, thereafter, the length of stay is mentioned as four years. There are also a few grammatical mistakes that could have easily been taken care of. Nevertheless, what sticks out the most are the translated Bengali metaphors sprinkled throughout the book. Instead of adding to the narrative, they cause a jarring sensation within the reader. For example, “She will rub chun kali on our faces” would have been more apt than “she will rub lime and ink on our faces”. The actual translation causes a disjointed feeling. For a non-Bengali reader, it is easier to substitute words from our imagination to fit the original words, but the literal translation makes the words impact-less. And, for a Bengali reader, like me, I found this habit of literally translating Bengali idioms slightly comical and distasteful.

Despite the criticisms, I also have some good things to say about the book. Roychowdhury is a strong and gifted storyteller. She builds the story’s momentum, with the reader growing closer to Mini with every successive page. Mini is portrayed as an immature selfish girl at first who gradually learns to negotiate her identity as a wife, a lover, a daughter and finally, a woman. Roychowdhury is also able to portray the true picture of immigrants in a foreign land like Canada. Very artfully, she delves into their lives and weaves out their conditions and their dilemmas of assimilation. As we get further enmeshed into the intricate poetic tapestry, we also tend to overlook the bad points I pointed out earlier. I admit that they cause a grating sensation, but we are able to ignore it and move on in order to reach the final climax as soon as possible; a climax that is unexpected and in many ways leaves the reader questioning their own inner turmoil.

On the whole, Roychowdhury is a lyrical and graceful author, whose fluidity in narration keeps this book afloat. As a first novel, it’s an extraordinary attempt at telling a complex story of inner journey. I would say catch the book, and the author, because we can surely expect some great things from this one!

Now available on www.monfakira.com. Also, available on Amazon on a later date.

Author: Sanchari Sur

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