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Book Review: A Distant Heart by Sonali Dev
(Publication Date 26 Dec 2017, Kensington Books)
I got the digital ARC of this book from Netgalley. It was interesting for me to read the blurb that the book is set in India and seemed interesting. The book is classified under two genres – Literary and Women’s Fiction. I took this book, to see how an Indo-American author would deal with a story set in India, compared to some of the Indian authors writing in English in similar genre who take their story setting away to foreign lands.
The twitter handle byline of the author says “Writer of Bollywood Style Love Stories… A little warm, a little lyrical, definitely dirty.” This was the first book of Sonali Dev that I read. And to put it straight – I was blown over.
“Courage wasn’t only fighting your circumstances; sometimes making peace with your circumstances required more courage.”Sonali Dev, A Distant Heart
It’s a wonderful book, a heartfelt story and to add to it, it’s a page turner. That’s a lot for a book to accomplish. The restraints of a girl suffering from immune disorder that requires expensive treatment. A story of boy belonging to rags, whose dad dies saving the chief minister of the state. The boy works his way to pay his debts, voluntarily, to reach heights of social aspirational achievements, but is torn by the condition of girl he loves and his own condition with which there is no matching social parity.
The chief minister himself, an ex Bollywood star, who started his life from rags and reached riches, both in wealth, in fame as a super star, and holding the highest political office of the state, has the only daughter, the protagonist who is suffering, and this is eighth child. The others before, died at birth and the weight of all this. The weight of love, the past, the choices. A romance, where the two have not even kissed, till one has read over half of the story.
“Fate wasn’t destiny. Destiny was the assorted pieces of ourselves tied up in a cloth pouch that we hung on a stick and slung over our shoulder like a hobo. Fate was what we did with those pieces when we unpacked that pouch and chose which pieces we reached for and which ones we hid away.”Sonali Dev, A Distant Heart
The author displays a beautiful restrained elegance in writing. It’s neither rushed, nor hurried, not even urgent. And in this the author does not take refuge in any lyrical or poetry type of weaving of words, but true to the writing style, sticks to prose – a wonderful prose, and lets the story seize the reader. It’s not even the “showing”, but as an expert weaver of story, the author shines as a master story teller.
The exuberance and pain of being in love, exemplified in the shape of an immune disorder that ultimately leads to transplanted heart. And the various kinds of expression of love that can exist – father, mother, friend, lover, the ramifications on so many people, including the Bollywood style villain. The book has all the ingredients – emotion, drama, character, action, thrill, romance, suspense, aspiration, guilt and what can be a better concoction for the reader?
“I wish there was a word for what you’re doing. I wish there was a word for being blind to someone’s situation because you think you know how it feels and you use some tiny part of your own experience and extrapolate it to theirs without realizing that you have a choice and that they have none.”Sonali Dev, A Distant Heart
The book has too many conflicts – subtle conflicts, not all of them can be visible, and many that can be resolved only as a resolution of inner conflict. Through this subtle and inherent conflicts, Sonali Dev achieves the best thing possible – in each chapter there is a twist or plot point, and I was left thinking “Ah…”.
The story runs within an overall plot of illegal/underground organ trade. Within that it brings out a daughter’s fragile health and desires, a rich dad’s compulsion, a poor but aspirational lover’s restraints. The characterisation within the story line is superbly executed. The author adroitly navigates between the two timelines of “present day” and “long time ago”
With each twist and turn in each chapter, the reader is kept guessing till the very end. Is Kirit the ringleader? Is Asif his henchman, who has gone bad? Who was the donor? Will the protagonist and his hero really survive? Will their relation survive? I think it’s a great achievement for the writer, if the reader is kept guessing so many questions till the end.
I loved the book, the writing and the story.
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Copyright © Anup Mukherjee
You may also like to read: The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi: The Fascinating Vibes of 1950s India