A New World
Often described in western media, stereotypically, as a jejune wasteland, full of starving poor, Calcutta and its surrounding regions have been continually underrepresented. In his most recent book, A NEW WORLD, author Amit Chaudhuri takes part in demystifying the very sensuous and sophisticated subcultures of this region of India. The story is voiced by Jayojit Chatterjee, an assimilated Indian-American mildly tainted by the pleasures of fast food and capitalism. Jayojit travels to India for a month long visit to see his parents, with his young son, Bonny, in tow. The trip is multi-fold. Outwardly, it appears as a means to bridge the gap of time and distance between son and parents and, particularly, grandson and grandparents. Chaudhuri captures this so poignantly in an argument upon their arrival between Jayojit and his mother about applying Bonny with the proper amount of sunscreen to counteract Calcutta's scorching temperatures.
"Bonny's grandmother was too full of her own worry, her bosom working with affection to think of this. She gazed at Bonny with the intensity of one who hadn't seen him enough." Chaudhuri illustrates the melancholia so felt by families separated by hemispheres. He expertly depicts the sadness shared by immigrants vying for America's options, who must exchange those bounties for the comforts and histories of community at home. It is this separation that amplifies the tenderness shared amongst Jayojit and his family in A NEW WORLD.
But, the trip is not only that of a pious son aiding to his aging and lonely parents. Jayojit is retreating after a benign but painful divorce. In each waft of summer breeze, stirring of storm, trip around the city, or increase in temperature, he is redirected to memories of Amala, his ex, and their rise and demise. Like many of us, he has come home to recoup, heal and remember. In general, A NEW WORLD centers on the subtleties of family life and their relevance. Meals, as in most households, are where the Chatterjee family meets, converses, argues and shares. Jayojit comments on the serenity his mother's "hit or miss" cooking brings: "Home food was safe and insipid and had a tranquility about it; today there was a watery lentil daal in a chinaware bowl, fried rui, a dalna which was a combination of sweet gourd of pabdaa fish in mustard. It was an honest, even joyful effort by his mother, though it had not quite worked; but it was not wholly tasteless either."
The use of nicknames also demonstrate an exchange of subtle affection. Grandmother affectionately calls grandson Shona, and he's named her Tamma in a likewise gesture. Jayojit watches his less expressive father the Admiral liken to his grandson by calling him Baba, normally an exchange shared between father and son. It is in these intimacies, so delicately described by Chaudhuri, that his intricate literary writing becomes tangential and emotional.
A NEW WORLD is not groundbreaking in its themes, but Chaudhuri's eloquent and lyrical account of a reunion with India and family is paced and engrossing. Poetic and sound, A NEW WORLD is passionate reading.
Reviewed by Laura Donnelly on April 26, 2011
A New World
- Publication Date: October 10, 2000
- Genres: Fiction
- Hardcover: 208 pages
- Publisher: Knopf
- ISBN-10: 0375410937
- ISBN-13: 9780375410932