by Preti Taneja
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From the book
It's not about land, it's about money. He whispers his mantra as the world drops away, swinging like a pendulum around the plane. The glittering ribbon of the Thames, the official stamps of the Royal parks, a bald white dome spiked with a yellow crown, are swallowed by summer's deep twilight. The plane lifts, the clouds quilt beneath it, tucking England into bed to dream of better times. It is still yesterday, according to his watch. He winds the dial forward. Now it is tomorrow, only eight hours to go.
He's landed the window seat with the broken touchscreen: it's either in-flight information or Slumdog Millionaire, the last movie he ever took Ma to. They went on release weekend. The entire line of people had been brown, so for once Ma didn't hunch in his shadow as if his jeans and camel coat would protect her, explain her. Instead they had the same old fight about Iris, and as he bought toffee popcorn she began to sniff: she said she was catching a chill. She kept up the sniffing as the credits rolled over the entire cast line-dancing on the set of an Indian train station. When they got outside, he thought she'd been crying. He put his arms around her: her head was the perfect place for his chin to rest. He asked her if she liked the movie, she said she didn't at all. It was not real India, except for the songs.
It's been a long haul from JFK to the LHR stopover. He's half shot with the comfort of Johnnie Walker, knows it's not the best but he appreciates the label. It feels bespoke to him, like a child in a gift shop who finds a mug with his own name on it. No gift shop in America has a JIVAN mug so he borrowed JON, and that's been it since he did this trip the other way. Thirteen years old: sold on leaving India by the promise of his first time in the air.
Forward, forward, he wills the plane, drumming his hands on the tray-table, earning himself the side eye from the woman wedged into the seat next to him. She's using her iPhone 4 to photograph the back page of the in-flight magazine: Ambika Gupta: offering you the miracle of advanced Numerology: a digit for your future. She pokes the man on her other side: Sardarji in a blue turban, matching jersey stretched over his belly, stitched with a white number 5. Dude looks like he's birthing quintuplets under there. She smiles at him, sits back in her seat. There are thin red lines traced all over her hands in fading bridal henna as if she's been turned inside out, painful, beautiful, the pattern of her is all paisleys. Her ring is a platinum band with a square-cut white diamond and her bag is Longchamps like all the pretty-pretty girls have; navy waterproof with brown leather trim, but small, the cheapest. Don't you know, pretty girl, that no bag is better than trying too hard? She's flicking through the magazine: ads for Marc Jacobs, Charlize Theron, flicks to the gadgets, flicks to the movies, clink-chime-clink go the red glass bangles stacked up her wrists.
It sounds like the overture to Ma's practice music. Played for her to dance Kathak, with precision, while Jivan kept time. Fist thumping into palm, Dha-din-din-dha. His memories are coloured by her last months—Ma, fading from brown to yellow, a bruise that would not heal against the hospital white. Dha-din-din-dha became her fingers beating lightly on his temples—blurring into the rattle of her breath toward the end—the background hum of the plane's engine in his ears. They are cruising high over the mountains of who knows where.
He pulls out his own magazine. The cover is a cartoon illustration—a tiny brown body topped with an oversized head. Under a halo...
About the Author-
- Preti Taneja was born in England to Indian parents. She has worked with youth charities, with refugees, and in conflict and post-conflict zones on minority and cultural rights, and teaches writing in prisons and universities. She is the co-founder of the advocacy collective ERA Films and of Visual Verse, an online anthology of art and words. We That Are Young won the 2018 Desmond Elliot Prize for the UK's best debut novel and was nominated for numerous international awards, including the Folio Prize, India's Shakti Bhatt First Novel Prize, and Europe's most prestigious award for a work of world literature, the Prix Jan Michalski.
April 15, 2018
When the Devraj family patriarch decides to step down as head of the flourishing industry and entertainment conglomerate he founded, chaos follows: youngest daughter Sita disappears, rejecting the man chosen for her to marry, and her older sisters Radha and Garg battle for control of the company. Meanwhile, family bastard Jivan Singh returns to New Delhi with his own plans. A debut echoing King Lear while examining contemporary India and human emotions in extremis; no wonder there's big in-house enthusiasm.
Copyright 2018 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.
June 15, 2018
Shakespeare's supreme tragedy, King Lear, is transposed to contemporary India and recast as a family drama of financial power-brokering within a transforming, culturally complex nation."Don't we have 'the youngest population, the fastest growing democracy' in the world?...This Company doesn't need old men, still living in the glory days of the '80s and '90s. It's now, guys. Our time." Issues of gender and generation spearhead the conflict in this mammoth drama of money, succession, and control, British-born Taneja's impressive first work of fiction. Pulsing with vitality, it ranges widely across the subcontinent, delivering the familiar bones of the story mainly from the perspective of the younger generation. Patriarch Devraj Bapuji--an aging tycoon whose business empire, the Company, makes its wealth principally from hotels--and his second-in-command, Ranjit Singh, have sired the five children whose perspectives shape the storytelling. First comes Jivan, Ranjit's illegitimate son, arriving back in India after 15 years in the U.S. to witness the day of Bapuji's sudden announcement that he's quitting his own company and transferring power to his daughters, Gargi and Radha. (Sita, the favorite, has disappeared.) Capable Gargi steps into the CEO role, eventually confronting her father and banning half of the Hundred, his rowdy cohort of favored employees, from the family compound. Radha, unlike Gargi, luxuriates in the trappings of wealth, but there's a dark history behind her sensual indulgences. And then there's Jeet, Jivan's gay half brother, who forsakes his wealth for a pilgrimage that will plunge him to the bottom of the social ladder to witness some of Bapuji's comeback campaign. Sita's section comes last, as the key players assemble for the glamorous opening of a new hotel in Srinagar and Taneja's dreamy synthesis of language, place, food, clashing views and values, seeping Westernization, and post-colonial flux reaches its climax.A long, challenging, but inspired modernization of a classic--engaging, relevant, and very dark.
COPYRIGHT(2018) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Starred review from August 13, 2018
Taneja’s impressive debut uses King Lear as a template but fearlessly carves a territory of its own. While remaining close to Shakespeare’s plot points, she offers a portrait of modern India both panoramic and complex, through the eyes of six main characters. The story begins in 2012 with Jivan Singh returning to his native New Delhi after 15 years in the United States. The illegitimate son of towering Indian magnate Devraj Bapuji, Jivan has come home as his elderly father prepares to hand off his business empire, but to whom? There are three daughters—Gargi, Radha, and Sita—as well as Jeet, a surrogate son and offspring of Devraj’s right hand, Ranjit. Jeet’s case for succession is weakened because he’s gay (given the conservative nature of the business establishment), a fact he’s loath to admit. Jivan, as a semi-outsider, is the ideal opening guide for the reader. The perspective shifts to Gargi, “custodian of her father’s office.” Business gives Gargi an adrenaline rush like nothing else. From Gargi, focus travels to Radhi (Regan to Gargi’s Goneril), who’s as “feminine” and sensual as her older sister is “masculine.” Sections devoted to Jeet and Sita follow. Short chapters of Devraj speaking directly to the reader are interspersed throughout, and the plot follows his rapid mental and physical decline while Radhi and Gargi battle for control of his empire. Taneja’s intricate, literary prose is heavy in both detail and reflection. This is a work of epic scope and depth that’s bracingly of the current moment.
- The Spectator "Big, beautiful and most of all bold. . . . A dazzlingly original reading of [King Lear] and a full novel in its own right. A masterpiece."
- The Guardian "A page-turner that's also unabashedly political--with the complex, ambiguous, fiercely felt politics of our time."
- T Magazine "[Taneja's] landscape bristles with ghosts, Shakespeare flickering in an eerie déjà vu. The bones show through, and the book is all the fiercer for it."
- Los Angeles Review of Books "The absolute mastery of Taneja's narrative style and the precision of her language is unforgettable."
- Mark Haddon, author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time "Extraordinary. That rare thing--a genuinely new voice. Spellbinding. It does what all the best novels do. It expands the possibilities of the form."
- Jim Crace, author of Harvest "We That Are Young is a powerful, engrossing chronicle of family and politics in contemporary India, perfectly constructed, magnificently written."
PublisherKnopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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