It is 1985. Twenty-two-year-old Ananda has been in London for two years, practicing at being a poet. He's homesick, thinks of himself as an outsider, and yet can't help feeling that there's something romantic, even poetic, in his isolation. His uncle, Radhesh, a magnificent failure who lives in genteel impoverishment and celibacy, has been in London for nearly three decades.
Odysseus Abroad follows them on one of their weekly familiar forays about town. The narrative surface has the sensual richness that has graced all of Amit Chaudhuri's work. But the great charm and depth of the novel reside in Ananda's far-ranging ruminations; in Radhesh's often artfully wielded idiosyncrasies; and in the spiky, needful, sometimes comical, yet ultimately loving connection between the two men.
OK, lets say this up front: not much happens in this book, so if you're looking for action, better skip this one and go back to Game of Thrones. It's a short, simple, introspective novel about a young man and his uncle. It's the Thatcher era, and Ananda has been in London for two years, studying English literature and trying to become a poet. He lives with his bachelor uncle, Radhesh, in a basement bedsit. There's an attractive woman living downstairs and a party that apparently goes on 24/7 upstairs. The book focuses on a single day in their lives--sort of an homage to Stephen Daedalus, if you will, or even Clarissa Dalloway. (The Odyssey reference is a bit tongue-in-cheek.) But besides their quarrels over the relative value of Keats v. Tagore and the quality of Indian food in England, Ananda's narrative goes back in time, telling the story of Radhesh's past, of how his own parents met and married, of his sad poet-uncle who lived in Ceylon, and of his own disappointments. The relationship between the two is a kind of Push Me-Pull Me: on one hand, they represent the typical generation gap, intensified the conflicting desires to fit into English society and a longing for home; on the other, they are united by the ties of blood, of family, of familiarity, of India. A quiet little book with moments of insight and of humor, Odysseus Abroad will not shake your world, but it might make you think a bit. Overall, a fast and enjoyable read.
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