Saturday, January 16, 2010

Brief Review: "A River Sutra" by Gita Mehta

A River Sutra by Gita Mehta, 1993.

I found this work to be a fascinating and enthralling novel that presents a cross-section of Indian society, both traditional and contemporary. The unnamed narrator is a highly placed civil servant in later middle age, a widower without children, who has tired of the constant activity required by his position and who, wishing to live a simpler and more contemplative life, requests reassignment as a manager of a government-operated rest house located in a rural area along the Narmada River, often regarded as the most sacred of all India's sacred rivers. Having a great deal of free time in this position, he takes long walks in the countryside and along the river and encounters many different individuals with whom he strikes up conversations and who tell him their stories. In the course of the work, we meet people of many different religions -- Hindu, Muslim, Jain -- and a broad spectrum of social and class backgrounds, from the most learned and wealthy to the least educated and poor, and gain at least a glimpse into the complex society that makes up India. In some way or another, all are connected to the river and the beliefs and traditions which surround it, a fact which helps to provide insight into the nature of the sacred and its role in Indian culture. At the same time, the narrator himself is coming to learn more about himself than he has ever realized previously.

I have recently begun to read work by Indian writers, something I really had not done previously. I found that this novel has given me a better understanding of India and its fantastically complex culture than anything I've read previously. I also found it to be a rather breathtaking work that drew me in and along with it from the very beginning. I enjoyed it immensely and cannot recommend it highly enough.


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