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Joseph, Anjali Saraswati Park ISBN 13: 9780007360789

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A tremendous first novel from an exciting young author recently chosen as one of the Telegraph’s ‘20 under 40’ best UK writers.

Famous for its electric chaos, the city of Bombay also accommodates pockets of calm. In one such space works Mohan, a contemplative man who has spent his life observing people from his seat as a letter-writer outside the main post office. But Mohan's lack of engagement with the world has caused a thawing of his marriage. At this delicate moment Mohan – and his wife, Lakshmi – are joined at their home in Saraswati Park by their nephew, Ashish, a sexually uncertain 19-year-old who has to repeat his final year in college.

As the novel unfolds, the lives of each of the three characters are thrown into relief by the comical frustrations of family life: annoying relatives, unspoken yearnings and unheard grievances. When Lakshmi loses her only brother, she leaves Bombay for a relative's home to mourn not only the death of a sibling but also the vital force of her marriage. Ashish, meanwhile, embarks on an affair with a much richer boy in his college and, not long afterwards, succumbs to the overtures of his English tutor.

As Mohan scribbles away in the margins of the sort of books he secretly hopes to write one day, he worries about whether his wife will return, what will become of Ashish, and if he himself will ever find his own voice to write from the margins about the centre of which he will never be a part.

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Review:

Winner of the Desmond Elliott Prize
Winner of the Betty Trask Prize
Shortlisted for the Ondaatje Award
Shortlisted for the Hindu Best Fiction Award
Shortlisted for a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize

'Joseph contrasts the inner and outer lives of her characters, and the uneasy friction between new and old cultures, with all the wit and delicacy of a latter-day Mrs Gaskell' The Times

'Joseph writes beautifully about quietness and stillness...this is a quiet, restrained novel but a great deal is going on beneath the surface' Sunday Times

'Anjali Joseph's debut novel is replete with evocative images of Bombay...but the book's greatest strength lies in its delicate portrayal of a young man's desperation for intimate connection, and a couple's acceptance of a marriage that has failed' Financial Times

‘An elegantly realised portrait of unrequited love, frustrated aspirations and the unspoken compromises of marriage and family. Joseph neatly weaves in elements of the rapid social change occurring in the ever-expanding city but her principal concern is the more complex process of personal change and development and its bittersweet effects: the nerves, hang-ups and pains of youth and the regrets, pleasures and fulfilment of old age’ Observer

‘How true to life it seems – the background of disconsolate rains and chattering mynah birds entirely Bombay, the preoccupations universal ... a generous book where absolutes are neither sought nor found.’ Guardian

‘The frustrations of middle-class family life are the focus of Bombay-set Saraswati Park ... each character quickly feels like a familiar face, making this like The Corrections, but set in India...a treat’ ELLE

'An unhurried, quietly heartbreaking study of a lower middle-class Bombay family's disintegration and renewal...Joseph's skill is finding the poetry inside modest dreams, small tragedies and disappointments’ Metro

‘A beautiful novel that personifies the new India from the inside out’ Literary Review

From the Author:
Anjali, how would you sum up Saraswati Park in one line?
Saraswati Park is a Bombay novel of misplaced dreams, recovered love, and quiet moments of beauty amid a vibrant city.

Saraswati Park is set in Bombay. How much was it directly inspired by your life in the city, and do you feel that the novel could ever have been set anywhere else?
The novel was very much inspired by living in Bombay as a young child and later working there as a journalist. I wanted to write about the Bombay of the streets in the Fort, old trees, raucous birdsong, quizzical passersby, the life of neighbours, taking the train to work, and quiet suburban lanes. And books and day dreaming. It isn’t the Bombay of Hindi cinema or of some novels, but it’s the one I knew. Bombay still has some properties of a city at the turn of the 20th century, so maybe it’s the kind of story you could imagine taking place in early 1900s Dublin, though of course the climate and landscape are very different.

You have worked as a journalist and a teacher. What made you turn to writing a novel?
I’d been writing stories and fragments of stories pretty much since I could write at all; the only change was bringing the writing into the light.

You were recently named in a list of the top 20 authors under 40, alongside established writers like Zadie Smith and Booker-shortlisted Adam Foulds. How does that feel? Do you feel under more pressure for your next book?
It was a total surprise, but very nice that the people who compiled the list had liked Saraswati Park enough to include it even slightly before it was published. I think there's always pressure to write something as good as you can, that will precisely catch whichever images, feelings and inchoate thoughts are gestating at the time--but no more than usual because of the listing, luckily.

What can readers look forward to next from you?
The novel I’m writing now is about a few characters in their twenties who live in Paris, London and Bombay; it explores how when you first live independently as an adult, you do things you never thought you would, experience things you couldn’t have imagined, and somewhere amid that, rediscover a sense of self behind your apparent personality.

What do you enjoy reading?
At the moment I’m rereading Francoise Sagan’s La Chamade because I’m working on a translation of it. I have a bit of a passion for slim, elegant novels. But I like all kinds of things--Samuel Beckett, Dickens, Scott Fitzgerald, Bernard Malamud, Flaubert. I also have a great respect for and interest in frivolous subjects, especially when taken seriously. If I were in a dentist’s waiting room with a volume of Proust and a copy of ELLE I might not pick up the Proust first.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Learn yoga, or anything else that requires patience.

Tell us something unusual about yourself.
I’m pathologically indecisive and always order last in a restaurant because I fear I’ll want what someone else has chosen.

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  • PublisherFourth Estate
  • Publication date2011
  • ISBN 10 0007360789
  • ISBN 13 9780007360789
  • BindingPaperback
  • Number of pages300
  • Rating

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