In this luminous comedy of four generations of Patels, poet and dancer Tishani Doshi weaves together the worlds of India and Wales, her twin inheritance.
Like the lovers of The Pleasure Seekers, Doshi has a Welsh mother and a Gujurati father; her debut novel, brimming with tender humour, has the endeared feel of family history. In 2006 Doshi won the Forward Poetry Prize for best first collection with Countries of the Body: listen to her arresting reading of the tragic "River of Girls" on internet videos. Savage indignation here meets heinous social crime: if Doshi invites more such reality into her fiction, she will develop into a novelist second to none.
The Pleasure Seekers celebrates the protean adaptability of family. Doshi poses the exile's age-old question: where is my home? Her writing, never less than poignant, sparkles with exuberance. When Gujurati Babo leaves Madras in 1968 and meets Welsh Siân, his dad is incandescent, lures him back to India on the pretext of his mother's illness, and hides his passport. But racial difficulties are, if not precisely resolved, then suspended in family love – under the guidance of a benignly powerful grandmother, Ba.
The Pleasure Seekers charms its readers and indulges its people. "Who disturbs a marriage is reborn as a mosquito," warns Ba – and Babo's chastened parents take due note. Siâ*settles contentedly in India to bring up her daughters, cool Mayuri and fiery Bean, who have only occasional connection with Wales. When Siâ*flies to Wales for her dad's funeral, to return charged with newborn hiraeth, it is as if "someone had climbed inside her and switched off all the lights". But Doshi consigns no character to solitary confinement.
The episodic narrative has a carnivalesque feel. Departure and arrival mediate one another: all's one. Lithe and agile, the novel dances its people across barriers of race and nation; across borders of gender, like the mercurial Ignatius, "a lady-boy hermaphrodite of startling beauty, with padded bosoms and a fake plait".
In England Babo, a vegetarian Jain, stuffs himself with meat, despite his mother's lifelong care "not to harm a single fly or ant" – and the novel digests his sacrilege. The brutal racism of the British does not impinge. Doshi runs the intimate family plot against the dire narrative of public events – Bhopal, assassinations, the Republic Day earthquake. But love conquers all as refuge and sanctuary, allowing lovers to "make a world of their own together". If the characters are simplified and idealised (especially the Welsh), the marvels of Doshi's language and a spirit of merriment create a fictional world in which, as in Shakespeare's "hey nonny nonny", sounds of woe convert into marriage's "tha-ra-rum-pum-pum", love's "ba-ba-boom".
Stevie Davies's novel 'Into Suez' is published by ParthianReuse content