Title: Ghachar Ghochar
Author: Vivek Shanbhag
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Publication date: April 27th, 2017
N° of pages: 128 pages
Genre: Literary Fiction
A novel of Chekhovian precision and lingering resonance which has all the signs of a contemporary cult classic.
In this masterful novel by the acclaimed Indian writer Vivek Shanbhag, a close-knit family is delivered from near-destitution to sudden wealth after the narrator’s uncle founds a successful spice company.
As the narrator – a sensitive young man who is never named – along with his sister, his parents, and his uncle move from a cramped, ant-infested shack to a larger house and encounter newfound wealth, the family dynamics begin to shift. Allegiances and desires realign; marriages are arranged and begin to falter; and conflict brews ominously in the background. Their world becomes ‘ghachar ghochar‘ – a nonsense phrase that, to the narrator, comes to mean something entangled beyond repair.
Told in clean, urgent prose, and punctuated by moments of unexpected warmth and humour, Ghachar Ghochar is a quietly enthralling, deeply unsettling novel about the shifting meanings – and consequences – of financial gain in contemporary India.
“Words, after all, are nothing by themselves. They burst into meaning only in the minds they’ve entered.“
This book has captivated me from start to finish. The writing was beautiful and it was very interesting for me to see how the main character’s family changed once it got rich! I also think that the translation has been done so neatly and greatly that it still managed to convey the essence of the story that was told in its original version. It doesn’t always happen but in this one, it really didn’t feel like anything was missing. The great thing about this book is that every little thing matters. It’s a very short book where if a thing didn’t add something relevant to the story, it just got left out. I found out about this book once I saw Ariel Bissett rave about it on her channel and since I usually love her recommendations, I was glad I managed to find it on Netgalley and even more once I got approved for it.
The book tackles a lot and is really packed with interesting themes such as the role of women in the Indian society and both the physical and emotional violence against them, how money could be related to happiness or misery, whether someone has to work or not… The story had a nice flow to it and I think that’s mainly because of the really nice and concise writing that I absolutely adored as you might’ve guessed. I really enjoyed how the writer was speaking for the main character telling us all about both his inner struggles and the struggles that started showing up inside his family but that were constantly ignored by the family members. I remembered a sentence in the book that went along the line of that if we wanted to keep the family bond strong, there has to be moments where we need to ignore some of the problems we encounter. Sadly, the wife of our narrator doesn’t believe in the same thing and constantly needs to remind them of everything they choose to overlook. She’s their constant reminder of how wealth has truly changed their lives. I loved how the author somehow showed us Anita in the form of an ant aka the demon that comes to swallow their home. She was only trying to show them the truth though…
Speaking of Anita, she probably is my favourite character in the book. There was a moment where she was the only one who stood up for another woman and gave her the benefit of the doubt while everyone started treating her badly. That was the moment where I knew she was my person in the book because I had felt so bad for this poor woman that it made me pause to gather some more courage and see what happens to her. Anita spoke up and wasn’t afraid of the family’s reaction and that alone made her a hero. Anita isn’t our only hero. I also liked his first girlfriend. In the beginning of the book, he talked a bit about his first girlfriend that worked in an organization that helped women that were violently attacked by men and that came each time and told him about all the cases she saw throughout the day. Our narrator sure has a type!
Although I loved the book, our narrator is a character that I loved hating. I really have a thing against people who accept money without working for it and that’s what he kept on doing. It was convenient for him and that reminded me of how once, I was in a cab and there was a man in a very similar situation that was basically saying that it was too stupid to work if you had an easy way to an income. I absolutely hated hearing him talk in those 5 very long minutes. He didn’t even try that hard when Anita has pointed out that it wasn’t the way to go which made me feel real sorry for her because she deserved way better.
I also loved the ending because it doesn’t actually give you an “ending” but rather leaves you with a series of questions that get stuck to your mind and that you need t reflect upon.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who’s looking for a short read that’s packed with intense moments.
This book was provided to me by Faber & Faber and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.