by Amit Chaudhuri
- reviewed by J M Frank
Chaudhuri's new novel A New World is like a high-end
Rolls Royce stripped of its engine. It appears elegant and classy.
It is designed with aesthetics in mind; and those aesthetics are
particularly pleasing to people who think of themselves as highly
educated or just high-minded. But, of course the flaw is that it
goes nowhere. Nowhere at all.
Chaudhuri is the kind of author that the critics seem
to love. He has won awards and fellowships. He publishes and is
praised in publications such as The New Yorker and The
London Review of Books. And his new novel certainly shows strength
in style and subtle observation. But by the end of the book one
is left wondering why the author decided to write this book in the
I have never been one to rigidly demand traditional
plotlines as a reader, or even a plotline at all. But a book like
this one that does not offer a plotline must offer something
as an alternative. This can be an explicit message, a powerful new
perspective on the world or human nature, an emotional impact--something.
But there is nothing here.
Chaudhuri's novel tells the story of an American economics
professor and his son visiting his parents in India following a
divorce. The divorce itself looms in the background of this novel
as some dark presence. This could have been the something that drives
the book, but it is never fully explored.
Of course, critics usually don't love books with no
redeeming qualities. Chaudhuri does have some strengths. The prose
is flawless. The novel's greatest strength is quite a bit of fresh
insight into the intricacies of human behavior, both from the West
and from Indian. But even these insights involve trivial subtleties
of behavior rather than anything important or with a powerful impact.
Unless your purpose is to sit in your driveway in
your engineless Rolls and let the neighbors see how classy you are,
take my advice; spend the money on something functional.
M Frank welcomes your comments on this review.