The Konkans

By TONY D'SOUZA

Surely, this is the age of fact disguised as fiction in Indian writing in English. When Arundhati Roy dedicated The God of Small Things to her mother, “who taught me to say ‘excuse me’ before interrupting her in public” — a line repeated in the novel — Roy let the reader know that her protagonists Rahel and Estha had more to share with herself and her brother than fiction often allows. In Tony D’Souza’s The Konkans, the origins of narrator Francisco D’Sai pointedly mirror the mixed heritage of the author, the Chicago-raised son of an Indian father and American mother. Francisco’s tale builds on the dual perspectives of his own father, Lawrence — propelled by family industry and ambition first to a white-collar job in Bombay and eventually out of “the noise, the crowd, the filth” of India — and his American mother, Denise, enraptured by her own view of India as exotic spectacle and spiritual destination. Their uneasy compromise of visions takes them back to an America Denise cannot see as home, and brings to join them Lawrence’s two brothers, Sam and Lesley, with results that put Lawrence and Denise’s bond into question. The resulting family saga plays out in a sprawling fashion, suggestive of the large history to be discovered within a small community. The Konkans of the title are a close-knit Catholic community in India, who, as a character in the book recounts, “had been waiting” for the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama “since the beginning of time” — a mythic perspective containing a typical mixture of truth and semi-truth. While the Konkans indeed converted to Christianity, the process was brutal, and involved outlawing Hindu sacred texts, music, clothing, and foods. In The Konkans, D’Souza enmeshes the complexities of the historical with the urgency of the personal, to fashion a courageous story of identity and the timelessness of love. -

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