Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. Musings from someone who sees stories everywhere.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Crowfall; book review

by Shanta Gokhale
Penguin/Viking                Crowfall
2013, pp 274

This award winning novel follows a group of artistic friends who brave external pressures and personal anguish in search of creative fulfilment. Through their art, they try to come to terms with injustice, unreason and violence in the world around them. If society is to change for the better, is the power of words, the power of art, the only instrument to bring it about? Or is it sheer stupidity to expect the world to change through the artist’s vision? This finely crafted novel explores the wider significance of art, artistic freedom, and its connections with everyday life.

Mumbai is a city whose peace and orderliness is constantly threatened. This compelling narrative opens with Anima’s memories of that fateful night in January 1993, when she lost her husband to senseless communal violence. She opts to break free from the vortex of grief by destroying the journals into which she poured her emotions for over a decade. She finds fulfilment in connecting with her young students, who are like the children she could never have. Her brother Ashesh, a painter, accepts the challenge posed by accidental patches of black on his canvas. ...

Author Shanta Gokhale weaves in such touches of sharp wit and satire, which hit right on the mark, without distracting us from the main story. The narrative and dialogues flow smoothly, punctuated with memorable images. The author makes every word count, while creating vivid scenes such as that of crows falling from the sky because someone has attacked them with an airgun.

“Each time a crow fell, the others’ cries reached a crescendo. Blinded by fear and grief, they dashed against the veranda.” The circles of senseless violence continue, but there is an underlying base of hope. The characters find solace and joy in friendship and love. Feroze is excited by the prospect of creating a new masterpiece from the torn bits of his vandalised painting.

The reflections on the many aspects of art are expressed naturally through the characters and their distinctive views, without weighing down the narrative. However, the seminar on “The Many Views of Art”, organised by gallery owner Vikram Shah, seems intrusive and too obvious a device to air an ongoing philosophical debate. The speakers’ speeches run through several pages of what would be more fitting in textbooks than in a novel.

The author’s English translation from the Marathi reads like an original work in its own right. It gives us a tantalising taste of the wonderful writing happening today in our regional languages.

My detailed review is published in Sunday Herald

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