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China Room: A Novel av Sunjeev Sahota

China Room: A Novel (utgåvan 2021)

av Sunjeev Sahota (Författare)

MedlemmarRecensionerPopularitetGenomsnittligt betygDiskussioner / Omnämnanden
825261,862 (3.74)1 / 19
Titel:China Room: A Novel
Författare:Sunjeev Sahota (Författare)
Info:Viking (2021), 256 pages
Samlingar:Ditt bibliotek


China Room av Sunjeev Sahota


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Visar 4 av 4
In the summer of 1929, a 15 years old girl is married in the Punjab. 70 years later her 18 years great-grandson ends up in the same house, trying to kick out his addiction. Between the two summers, the world changes and yet, there seem to be enough lines that can be drawn between the two teenagers. Sahota does not reveal the relationship immediately, not completely - but the hints are there and it is spelled out early enough. It is not really needed in order for the novel to work - if anything I think it was one of the things that weakens it - but I will get back to it in a bit.

Mehar grew up in a small village in the Punjab and as was the tradition, she is promised/engaged when she was 5. Her new family gives her 10 more years at home but when she is 15, the wedding finally happens. Except that she has no idea who she married - there are 3 brothers, there are 3 weddings and noone knows who was married to whom. The 3 women live separately, they are always veiled around the brothers and the only time they meet them as husbands is in a dark room, when they are sent to wait for their husbands - because they need sons. Outside of this room, the 3 girls are interchangeable - they are there to serve their mother-in-law and the three brothers and to give birth to the next generation. And none of them finds that unusual.

Mehar really wants to know who her husband is - so she spends a lot of time trying to guess it. And while doing that she falls in love with one of the brothers.

That story of a bygone era is combined with the narration of a never named man - the great grandson of Mehar who tells us the story of his summer 20 years earlier - the hot summer of 1999 which he spent in the Punjab and in the house of his own family, learning a lot of that 1929 story. He was an addict and was sent to India to be kept away from everything. He finds the past, finds love and then goes back home.

While I was reading I was wondering just how many love stories can be added to a short book like this one - and every time I thought that we saw all of them, we got more. But this is not a happy end kind of book - that's not the point and it will not fit. In a lot of ways it is not a happy book at all - the man who is ready to throw everything for love never gets a chance, the woman who loves someone nearby needs to marry someone else, the boy who falls in love gets disappointed. Love is not something that anyone cares about - family, obligations and duty are more important.

The novel should have worked but I think that in the attempt to connect the two timelines, Sahota overdid it a bit. Mehar's story and the story of her world is overshadowing the other story and the connections you are supposed to make between the two of them seem to diminish the newer story even more. There are two separate stories here, both of them could have worked on their own but bungling them together somehow ended up less than the two of them separately.

I wish Sahota had spent more time in the 1929 - we see the world changing there through the eyes of Mehar and the men who love her but it is just a glimpse. That is normal - the small village is not a place where things happen and it takes awhile for things to trickle from the big cities. And yet, had it been any other year, Mehar's story may have been different. At the same time, the newer story is almost perfect in its depiction of its own past - as the narrator is talking from 2019, he goes back not just to his 18 years old self in the Punjab but back to his childhood - the story of a brown boy in a town in England where there was no Indian diaspora. You almost can see why he rebelled and ended up addicted - and it is a story that we all had seen in the papers way too often. Sahota's style is somewhat sparse and it works beautifully - he does not need to explain the feelings of the boy who is not allowed into a birthday celebration because of who he was but is still given some cake or the parents who try to make their life in a new place; neither he needs a lot of words to explain the unhappy marriage of the uncle in the Punjab.

It is a fascinating novel - the depiction of 1929 Punjab is not something I often see in novels. The dust jacket of the novel says that the novel was partially based on the author's family story. One wonders how much of what we saw really happened and where reality and imagination crossed. It has its problems but it is still worth a read. ( )
1 rösta AnnieMod | Aug 30, 2021 |
An enjoyable, accessible, and relatively brief work of literary fiction set in the Punjab that concerns itself with marriage, sexual passion and possessiveness, sibling relationships. rivalry, and the historically constricted lives of women. As engaging as it is, the novel feels rather thin and soap-opera-ish, requiring considerable suspension of disbelief.

One of the two stories, set in the late ‘90s has a young British man of South Asian descent visiting his uncle and aunt in the Punjab, apparently to sweat out his heroin addiction. Well aware of his aunt’s displeasure at having him there, he asks his uncle if he can stay on the abandoned ancestral farm, which he partially renovates with friends he makes in the village. The other story concerns his great-grandmother, Mehar, who as a young wife in 1930, lived on the farm with two other young women, their nasty, domineering mother-in-law, and her three sons. The girls don’t know which of the three brothers each is married to, as the husbands visit their wives on separate nights in total darkness in a room set aside to accommodate the “procreative aspect” of marriage. Heirs and future labourers will be needed. It is the young wives responsibility to produce them, and enjoyment of the duty isn’t part of the deal apparently. On nights when none of the girls is engaged, they all sleep together in a storeroom, the china room of the novel’s title. During the day, the wives are labourers and interact little with the men. The reader is required to accept that Mehar mistakes the youngest brother for her husband. She subsequently meets him regularly during the day and the two make a plan to escape the farm. I accepted this Shakespearean device of mistaken identity, but did I believe a woman, even a young one, could be so oblivious about the body of her husband? Frankly, no.

Re: the 1990s narrative—I also didn’t fully buy that parents would send a teenage heroin addict in the immediate throes of opioid withdrawal to another continent to stay with relatives he’d not seen in years, one of whom was extremely embittered and angered by the young mans’s presence.

Thanks to Net Galley and the publisher. I enjoyed the book, but I don’t think it merits an award. ( )
  fountainoverflows | Aug 18, 2021 |
Two stories are intertwined, that of a lonely young man who is addicted to heroin and the summer he spent in rural Punjab before college and that of a more interesting story of a young woman in 1929, who turns out to be his great-grandmother. 16-year-old Mehar is a young bride who lives in a cramped room with two other women were married to three brothers at the same time. They live in the “China room” so named because it it contains willow-patterned china that was once part of a dowry. They spend their time there unless called to serve their mother-in-law or summoned to a bedroom hopefully to produce an heir. And as the story progresses, we learn not only more about the girls, but their recently widowed mother-in-law. It’s a very quiet story with a lot of pain as the reader puts together the fragments of lives portrayed in the book. ( )
  brangwinn | Jul 22, 2021 |
Reminds me of Heat and Dust. Think the past story works better. ( )
  adrianburke | Jul 18, 2021 |
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