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     Volume 6 Issue 18 | May 11 , 2007 |

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South Asian Novels

The Holy Woman
Qaisra Sharaz

Set in a village in Sind, the readers are taken across the world to Cairo, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia, as the story unravels. The university educated heroine, Zarri Bano (ZB) - beautiful and elegant - meets her match in Sikander, a debonair Karachi-based business tycoon. Accepting his proposal, she goes as far as dreaming of setting up a press in Karachi after marriage. But fate and her patriarchal clan catch up with her and her world turns topsy-turvy: her overly possessive father after his only son's death decrees that the stylish ZB devote her life to religion and praying, forbidding marriage to her, so as to keep the family property from falling into "outsiders' " hands. How ZB copes with her new life makes for a very interesting reading. There is a parallel strain in the novel, too, which though less absorbing, provides insight into the lives of village folk. The steadfastness and incredible will power of ZB transcends through the pages - she instils energy in the readers. Once started, the novel is difficult to put down; it awes and beguiles when least expected.

The Bus Stopped
Tabish Khair

A very angry bus driver, abandoned by his wife and going nowhere in his career; a sanctimonious conductor; a hijra, or eunuch, a remnant of India's Muslim glory days; a nervous, half-Indian businessman clutching a briefcase-full of cash; a right-wing Hindu matriarch; a young boy returning to his village after robbing his employer....They meet-and witness a tragic event-only because they are all travelling on the same bus, in the same direction, on the same day. With exceptional poise and beguiling simplicity, Khair introduces a range of voices, thoughts, ideas and identities, allowing each individuals story to unfold gradually. One bus, one journey, several characters: The Bus Stopped offers glimpses into unconnected lives-and the experience of a death shared. The Bus Stopped is comparable to Short Cuts in its episodic structure, is his first novel. His next novel, also to be published by Picador, will be about the pre-Bollywood film industry.

Song of the Cuckoo Bird: A Novel
Amulya Malladi

Malladi's fourth novel transports readers on a cinematic journey through late-twentieth-century India as seen through the eyes of the inhabitants of Tella Meda, a religious community on the Bay of Bengal. Kokila comes to the ashram in 1961 as an 11-year-old orphan. She later renounces her arranged marriage to stay within Tella Meda's restrictive walls, a move she comes to regret. The ashram's guru attracts a cast of misfits from near and far--widows, abused wives and their neglected children, the daughter of a prostitute, a father guilty over his daughter's suicide--each illuminated by Malladi in her kaleidoscopic perusal of both the ills of India's caste system and the repercussions of rigid moral dicta. Running historical updates on India's wars, elections, and assassinations introduce each chapter. But the crux of the novel is how Malladi's female characters struggle with the stifling effects of caste and gradually respond to the movement for women's rights that surges as the century draws to a close.


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