Picador India £7.99
Fireproof, By Raj Kamal Jha
Sunday 09 March 2008
In February 2002, in the Indian state of Gujarat, an arson attack on a train left 59 Hindus dead. Mob violence erupted across the state. (Some people have committed an atrocious crime, so hound and torture and murder some other people who had nothing to do with it: how very fair and sensible.) Around 1,000died in the violence, most of them Muslims, many of them killed with grotesque cruelty.
It would seem almost impossible to make a work of literature out of such obscene events: isn't the enormity of the crimes sure to dwarf artistic considerations? Yet Raj Kamal Jha has succeeded in writing a novel that works brilliantly as literature, while documenting the brute fact of those atrocities, that really did happen, in our world, a mere six years ago.
The city of Ahmedabad is on fire. Men, women and children are being burnt alive. In the hospital, a baby with no limbs – or features, save a pair of beautiful eyes – is born. The father, Jay, names the baby Ithim (= It + him). Jay sees a woman's face at a window, the words "HELP ME" are traced on the glass, yet when he reaches the room there is nobody there... These events from the first few pages of Fireproof give a hint of the peculiar flavour of the novel that is to come: dark, disturbing, surreal; an evocation of unbearably tragic events, yet with a sense of mystery and wonder that keeps you turning the pages. Think Paul Auster crossed with Salman Rushdie.
The writing is subtle, intriguing, and employs the full range of modernist literary tricks. There are switches in narrator, changes from first- to third- person, a section in playscript form and photos. And through it all, the whispering voices of the dead. Parts are so harrowing you'd hardly dare to re-read them. But you should certainly read this book once.
BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital moveTV
Final Top Gear reviewTV
FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets
Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
- 2 'Help me I'm trapped in a factory' messages keep being found on bottles of vitamin water
- 3 Right to die: Belgian doctors rule depressed 24-year-old woman has right to end her life
- 4 Wimbledon 2015: Dustin Brown knocks Rafael Nadal out of championship
- 5 Primark and Penny's heir Barry Ryan drowns trying to save his 21-year-old son
Top Gear: Former co-host James May to present new BBC2 car show
Game of Thrones season 6: Daenerys actress Emilia Clarke says '50/50 chance' Jon Snow is alive
Game of Thrones season 6: Release date, plots and dragons - everything we know so far
Spider-Man should stay white and straight in the movies, says comic book veteran Stan Lee
The last decade has produced just four UK festival headline acts
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
Greece crisis: The wider lesson is that it’s time to abandon this failed experiment in currencies
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
They are neither a 'state' nor 'Islamic': Why we shouldn't call them Isis, Isil or IS