Monday, December 19, 2022

Silent Winds, Dry Seas

  Silent Winds, Dry Seas
Author:  Vinod Busjeet
Publication Information:  Doubleday. 2021. 288 pages.
ISBN:  0385547021 / 978-0385547024

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "'Before I married your father, I was engaged to his younger brother Amar,' my mother said."

Favorite Quote:  "A scorpion convinced a frog to let him ride on his back as the latter swam across a river. The scorpion stung the frog before they could reach the other shore. The frog asked the scorpion why he had done something that would drown them both. The scorpion replied that he couldn't help it. It was in his nature."

In the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar, approximately 1,100 miles of the coast of Africa lies the island nation of Mauritius, a country of only a about 790 square miles. In its history, Mauritius has been under Portuguese, Dutch, French, British, and independent rule. Ethnically, people of Indian heritage make up the largest proportion of the population.

That fact has its history tied to the history slavery. Slavery was abolished in the 1830s. However,  plantations and factories required labor. This led the import of hundreds of thousands of indentured servants from India to fill the labor shortage.

This is the history that Vishnu Bhushan carries with him as he finds a new life in America. This is the same history that brings him back to Mauritius to visit his ailing father. The visit is a literal and literary trip down memory lane.

The author, Vinod Busjeet, was born in Mauritius. At age 71, this is his debut novel after a long career in development economics. The book began as a memoir. However, as the author states in interviews, fiction allowed for greater liberty in telling his story. The story begins with Mr. Busjeet's own birth in 1949 and goes until Mauritius’s independence, in 1968. A final chapter speaks to life in America. The book is about family, about politics, and about country.

Although the story is based around Vishnu's return to Mauritius as an adult, it is told as very much a linear tale of his childhood in the country. As such it is not as much a coming of age story as a history.

The history is not one I am familiar with. In fact, it is the history that leads me to the book. That, and a debut author. I appreciate the history I learned about a part of the world that perhaps one day I will see but perhaps I never will.

Unfortunately, I struggle with the story itself and find it challenging to engage with the characters. The chapter titles such as A Haircut on the Beach, All the Same Sauce, and Conclave of Goons give little indication of what is to come. Some chapters (about every other) are a couple of pages of free verse.

At one point, the book brings in its own title. "Indeed, the last words Uncle Ram uttered every evening, in a thunderous and imperative voice were 'Hawa baand, samoondar soukarey,' never 'Good night.' ... Those Hindi words mean 'Halt the winds, dry out the seas!'." Yet, the book never goes no to explain the significance, cultural meaning (if any) or connection of those words to the story.

At most times, it feels as if the message of the book is just beyond my grasp, just out of reach. The literary devices for me come in the way of my enjoyment of what should be a compelling story. Unfortunately, I walk away unsatisfied and not the reader for this book.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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