Novels that aspire to the conditions of the elements, where the mythical and spiritual weight of their presence is at the very heart of the text, have perhaps fallen out of fashion. In both poetry and fiction, language that is impalpably dry, witty – dare I say ‘urban’ –
At last, an author not only concerned with the conventions of good storytelling (and it is good storytelling) but also the patterning of language, the depth and vision of the imagery, the richness of the text. There’s a lot of information, and for those unfamiliar with particular Indian and/or West African traditions, the book demands careful attention. And why not? It’s an absolute pleasure to read, and re-
The novel’s beginning is sonorously magical; fresh, and unfamiliar: ‘The rain came late to the last monsoon in the life of Philomena Avan DaCruz. In the evening angry clouds prowled the horizon over the Arabian Sea. But the next morning they were gone and the sun was back, sucking solace from ponds and watering holes…’ Oh the rain, the rain. This is a beautiful opening metaphor, an introduction to both place and character. Nothing clunks or sinks; the gentle imagery lifts and glides across the paper. In the opening alone, Sorabjee has managed to unveil what Wordsworth called ‘the light of things’, and this sets the tone for the rest of the book. There are moments of poetic revelation, conjured in a single phrase, an image, or even an entire paragraph. Plot, character and reviewing obligations aside, I found myself reading God on Every Wind for these moments – and it didn’t disappoint. They recurred without fail to the end of the book.
Love and loss, rebellion and allegiance, are interwoven into the detailed fabric of God on Every Wind. We begin with an introduction to Philomena, the history of her family, and their residence, the Casa de Familia DaCruz. We are then introduced to her father and mother, through to the birth of her brother Lancelot, and then eventually, her own rather dramatic entrance into the world. The turn of events from here are generally unexpected, and there’s a lot to be taken in.
Against the frivolity and beauty of youth, we have the quiet, patient spirits of the ‘old world’ begrudgingly dragged into the epoch of a new India. There’s a lot in this book that brings your attention to the ‘grey areas’, and, though quite necessary, some uncomfortable questions are asked. The freeing of India from imperial rule was crucial of course. Yet here, we discover a world, a somewhat culturally and economically sound society, silenced on the note of its departure – a familiarity, and a way of life is lost. Again, Sorabjee sets the tone of the book. From the beginning we are faced with a question, and quite naturally, perhaps, we find no real answer.
It quickly becomes apparent though, like the Casa de Familia DaCruz, Philomena is the anchor of the drama; the ‘heart of its catatonic shape’. For me, she is that state of rebellion; honesty, courage, integrity. The book has fight – everyone at some point is battling against something, or someone else, be this a colleague, a parent, a conscience. This vital, rebellious spirit is present throughout, and I can’t help but feel the weight of Philomena’s presence there: a solid rock around which everything else laps and murmurs. It’s the opposite to personification, giving a human character an elemental, non-
The characters are alive, their perfections, their imperfections, their skin, their voices. Everything is there, close to the flesh, their every last detail has been crafted with the greatest care and attention – so much so that they exist beyond the creator. It didn’t surprise me to learn that Sorabjee is also a scriptwriter – the handling of character seems to work the same. Just as the actor takes on the voice, the mannerisms, and the name, and then makes them her own; so it is with this book. The same ‘passing of rights’ as it were has taken place, and this again makes for a very refreshing read.
Philomena and Nestor are like two points of light, continually revolving independently, and acquiescently, around each other’s small but bright existence. They come from very different backgrounds, and in many ways think very differently. But at the heart of them both is a desire to revolt. Their meeting isn’t serendipitous, in any way shape or form. In fact it’s pretty normal. It’s how their love evolves over time, how they grow together (and apart, and together again) from adolescence to adulthood, how they face the relentless implications of adult life, and the potentially devastating affects of both personal and political idealism, that makes their journey interesting to the reader.
Again, as the story unravels, Philomena – Philomena’s choices, Philomena’s words, actions, needs, thoughts – are of particular interest. Her desire to want and have, and then throw away makes her the female equivalent to the ‘loveable rogue’, though it’s wise to bear in mind that her actions are rooted in a deeply private magic, manifested by the blurred shadows of sightless childhood. We are led, almost as if by the hand, through the fresh and sensuous experiences of a hungry child: ‘The air around her father was a network of currents: displaced musical tones wafting across a stern, even grid, soft glows washed by cool, distant winds.’ Everything is about pulse, inflection, undertone, and human spirit. And again, we have the poetry – clear and absolute. I re-
There’s much in the novel about decision and choice, pride and honesty. Freedom and the individual are celebrated. Yet a lot of questions are asked in turn, particularly on this notion of choice, and how the paths we choose affect our lives, and those with whom we share it. One obvious question this novel brought to my attention was about love –
The blowing rends of change inflicted upon both a nation’s political and social landscapes are inflicted again in the desert of the heart. Change by way of choice and by way of fate is imminent; it spurs the narrative. The entire text – be this in plot, poetry, character, time, and the spaces in-
Though gentle in many ways, God on Every Wind inflects frequently, bowing to the troubled surges of an altogether darker undertone. The landscapes of this book seem, in many ways, silenced by their own vastness, and there’s a lot, I feel, that goes unsaid. These blank spaces can be filled with our own conclusions, and in this Sorabjee gives you space to breathe; to enter the story again and again with new ideas, a new take on a situation or a circumstance. Not once did I come across a ‘slump’ moment: drifting to and from my own imaginary world where the book ‘could have been so much better’, as often occurs when reading modern fiction. My critical attention was engaged throughout, and I found myself reaching little moral conclusions just as the story turned, and presented me with a fresh batch of dilemmas.
The first twenty-
The love between the main characters seems almost ‘beyond love’, and this, for me, is one of the most compelling aspects of the novel. In some cases, quiet moments of reflection are offered, and in these we glimpse the staggering depths of devotion in which their bond is secured: ‘Their moments together were gusts of bliss, snatched from the winds….sometimes they would lie together listening to the staccato pattering of the warm afternoon rain on the earthen water drum outside, then revel in the shining, sun-
This isn’t a ground-
I’m still not sure about the final chapters; there are some unexpected ‘twists’, and I’m not sure whether they feel out of place, or if they offer (as Sorabjee does so well) a deeper insight into the minds and hearts of the characters. I suppose I’ll have to read the book again to find out; and quite naturally. God on Every Wind invites a third, even a fourth (or fifth) read, and deservedly so. This is compelling and colourful first novel, written by someone who, if nothing else, understands the importance of storytelling that delves, again and again into the murky realms of the human condition, and explores honestly, with poetical freedom, what can be found.