As I mentioned on Monday, I starting The Sari Shop quite a while ago and put it down when I couldn't get into it. I'm pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did this time around.
The publisher describes the novel as "a cross between Monsoon Wedding and a Kafka short story." I'm not sure I would describe it that way, but it doesn't ring false. Ramchand, the novel's protagonist, is a bit of a Kafkaesque character, in as much as he is profoundly alienated:
Why had he begun to get the feeling that something was wrong? A feeling that the was being told lies--big lies, small lies, by everyone, all the time, day after day after day. Always the horrible feeling, some gap, something missing something that he didn't know, something that he couldn't see, something terribly important. (21)But the novel doesn't have the surrealism of much of Kafka's work, nor the humor, at least not in the same degree.
I thought Ramchand was a very sympathetic character, though at times his sensitivity was a bit too acute to be believable. Many of the secondary characters and vividly drawn. The story of Kamla, in particular, was heartbreaking.
Bajwa does a wonderful job bringing Amritsar. Locales, foods, fabrics, they are all described in gloriously vivid detail. What permeates this book, though, is a profound sense of hopelessness as Bajwa unflinchingly showcases the class divide in contemporary India.
PS. The copy I read has this cover, which is simply gorgeous.