Book Review: Aftertaste by Namita Devidayal

Title: Aftertaste
Author: Namita Devidayal
Year of Publication: 2011
Series: N/A
#: N/A
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 2.96
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 4

Spoiler Alert

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Might I start off by saying that I cannot believe this book has a average Goodreads rating of below 3, when SO MANY terrible books are rated 4 and 5 out of 5 stars?

Plot Description:  The powerful matriarch of a wealthy business family (they sell sweets) has suffered a str0ke, and lies dying. Aftertaste is the story of how her children and her children-in-law deal with her impending death, while also fending off personal troubles of their own. In addition to metaphorical interpretations, the title also directly refers to the theme of Indian sweets that runs through the book in the form of the Todarmal’s business.

The one word I’d use to describe this book is “stark”. Stark as in “stark reality”. Stark as in “stark truth”. Stark as in “stark naked”.

[Note: This has nothing to do with the well known and generally unfortunate House of Stark, located at Winterfell.]

‘Mummyji’ is what she’s called, and that term itself is SO typically Indian – of the way we’ve managed to blend English customs with customs of our own from all over the country. So far, she’d run the family business with an iron fist and an eagle eye on the accounts. They’ve zillions of rupees stashed away in a Swiss bank account – the details of which are known only to Mummyji. Then there’s also the matter of Mummyji’s extremely valuable jewels (emeralds or diamonds or something. I forget exactly which). These too, have been squirreled away with none of the children the wiser to their location.

Mummyji clearly doesn’t trust her kids, and with good reason, because as it turns out, they’ve kind of been waiting for her to die for quite a while now. Each of them for their own personal reasons – her eldest son, Rajan Papa, is in debt to a local money lender. Her daughter, the beautiful yet indifferently married Suman seems hell bent on finding those jewels or die trying. Her other son Sunny – the spoilt brat who’s cheating on his wife, and her youngest daughter Saroj, who’s been estranged from her husband under the weirdest circumstances ever – they all need money from her for some reason or the other.

Mummyji herself is no saint, and as the story progresses, she’s revealed to be a master manipulator, and the ultimate controlling parent – determined to keep her kids tied to her apron strings way after they’ve grown up, gotten married, and, in some cases, had children of their own.

The story explores numerous sub plots as it switches between narrators, including side characters like the largely overlooked and invisible servants of the house, Sunny’s young mistress, and one of Mummyji’s grandchildren, who’s struggling with issues related to his less than heteronormative sexuality. Not many of these sub plots – if any at all – are boring or annoying. Rather than distracting the reader from the main narrative – which is my main gripe with many multiple narrator stories – the subplots combine to make a perfect whole.

What you end up with is a lazy, comfortable Sunday afternoon read that doesn’t pretend to you that life is any less difficult, messy, ugly or complicated than it really is; but makes you feel like maybe you can deal with it all the same.

As long as you take it slow and relaxed, like the pace of this book itself.

P.S.: I haven’t done a very feminist critique of this book because it represents more than half the types of quintessential Indian women you can ever come across. Reviewing it from a feminist perspective is going to require a scholarly article on Indian Feminism, no less.

Next Review: A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami

 

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