Fourth Estate, £12.99
Another Country, By Anjali Joseph
This tale of three cities captures the mind and mood of a heroine in search of herself, and a home
Saturday 30 June 2012
Anjali Joseph's prize-winning debut novel Saraswati Park was praised for its scope in bringing to life a modern Bombay. Her second work is far more introspective, and more autobiographical; like Joseph, her protagonist Leela Ghosh is a Cambridge English graduate, who struggles with young adulthood while living in Paris, London and then Bombay.
After university and without any sense of direction, Leela teaches English in Paris, inwardly obsessing over an indifferent man, while trying to mask her fermenting anger and absorb the insouciant sophistication she associates with the city. Joseph displays her descriptive prowess through Leela's detailed observations of setting and character quirk. Running alongside is the constant self-doubt which adds a startling authenticity.
Next London, where Leela seems no closer to the inner contentment or intimate connection she craves. In a dead-end relationship, she struggles with issues of class and identity. In one scene a friend's wealthy family are disappointed she hasn't got more exotic "aristocratic or artistic" roots. International displacement and the sense of not belonging remain at the heart of Leela's journey. "The world was one thing, and it was colossal. One, next to it, was perpetually in danger of being forgotten."
For the final destination Joseph revisits Bombay. At first Leela goes travelling where she feels alone and bored, until she finds a job, a hostel, and begins to settle. Leela's female friends carve out an independent existence; at work, the jocular Sathya chooses not to marry and hides his sadness. Finally, there is a love interest, Vickram: wealthy, intense and ready to commit.
That Leela's passions are not developed alongside her angst may be a criticism that could be levelled at Another Country. But Joseph's art in creating character through the shifting processes of thought, shaped by experience, is what makes this flawed novel still compulsive reading.
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