Haunting Bombay

Haunting Bombay

4.5 9
by Shilpa Agarwal

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A motherless girl living with her grandmother and her uncle’s family in their bungalow in 1960s Bombay inadvertently unleashes a ghost, forcing the family to confront the shocking truth behind a drowning death that occurred there years earlier.


A motherless girl living with her grandmother and her uncle’s family in their bungalow in 1960s Bombay inadvertently unleashes a ghost, forcing the family to confront the shocking truth behind a drowning death that occurred there years earlier.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
A San Francisco Chronicle bestseller

“Intriguing.”—USA Today

“Will definitely appeal to fans of Monica Ali and Jhumpa Lahiri . . . fresh, original.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Publishers Weekly

Agarwal's atmospheric if excessively detailed debut takes readers deep into the mysterious heart of Bombay in the 1960s. Thirteen-year-old Pinky Mittal lives with her obese, matriarchal grandmother, Maji; her alcoholic uncle, Jaginder; bitter aunt Savita; and three teenage male cousins. Taken in as an infant by her grandmother after her mother died, Pinky knows she's Maji's favorite, even if her aunt despises her. Driven by adolescent curiosity, Pinky unlocks a door in her family bungalow that has been bolted her entire life and unleashes the ghost of an infant girl and her midwife, sending her whole family into a tailspin. Surrounded by superstitions and spirituality, Pinky tries to unravel a past rife with pain and deceit as three generations of her formerly stalwart family crumble around her. This multigenerational family saga is rich with eccentric characters and period details, but Agarwal too often clogs the page with nonessential descriptions. (Apr.)

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Library Journal

Love is stronger than death, and secrets will always come out, as this carefully crafted debut novel reveals. When teenager Pinky Mittal unbolts a long-closed door, the spirit of a dead child emerges, forcing one Bombay family to deal with its private demons. Whether or not Pinky and her family are psychologically equipped to do so, however, is a question fraught with personal and political anguish. Readers who enjoy a good ghost story will appreciate the tense interplay between the living and the dead as the former seek to deny, then ignore, then banish the latter. Those who prefer realism will find Agarwal's snapshot of 1960s Bombay compelling and savor her attention to both historic and domestic details-the descriptions of food, jewelry, furniture, and religious ritual are particularly vivid. Agarwal's work will definitely appeal to fans of Monica Ali and Jhumpa Lahiri by virtue of its characters and setting, but it retains a fresh, original feel that will draw in new readers with its own literary merit. Recommended for all but the smallest fiction collections.
—Leigh Anne Vrabel

Kirkus Reviews
Set, obviously enough, in Bombay, this novel purports to be eerie but doesn't wring much horror from the weirdness it recounts. A very pregnant young woman defiles the altar of a goddess when her water breaks unexpectedly, and shortly thereafter the baby drowns. Thirteen years later, a young girl named Pinky, who had been brought into the family shortly after her birth, opens the door of a bungalow that has been bolted-uriously enough for 13 years-and lets loose the ghost that has been awaiting an opportunity to emerge. Pinky's entire family is both haunted by and implicated in the unearthly and sinister exploits. Savita, the mother of the dead child, finds her breasts begin to swell and then explode with milk, while her husband Jaginder, who deals with his pain by drinking and by asserting his dominance over his wife, is set into a rage when she reveals the secret of her dead child to others. A Hindu priest is called in to do (for want of a better term) an exorcism, but he's both spooked and ineffective. One of the problems with the narrative-and what prevents it from being either hair-raising or bone-chilling-is that the ghost manifests itself, sometimes by weird sounds in the pipes (because "what killed the baby now sustains the ghost") and sometimes as a phantasmal presence: "The ghost gracefully unfurled herself along a line of jute in the boys' room and hung upside-down, hair swaying beneath her, as she assessed her work." And later, "Hovering just inside a window, the baby ghost watched the family's new routine with curiosity." A ghost with this kind of physicality is hard to take seriously, and the family's reaction to their supernatural harassment seems overwrought. All theingredients of a great ghost story except fear and trembling.

Product Details

Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.38(w) x 9.02(h) x 0.97(d)

Meet the Author

Shilpa Agarwal was born in Bombay and currently lives in Los Angeles. She is a graduate of Duke University and UCLA and has taught at both UCLA and UC Santa Barbara. Haunting Bombay is her first novel.

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Haunting Bombay 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Dree More than 1 year ago
Excellent book with fabulous descriptions of life in 1960s Bombay (India). This book follows the lives of the Mittal family and their servants--largely their present, but with very important insights into their pasts. And woven in is a ghost (spirit) story. I found the descriptions of the lives of women in various stages of their lives/from various walks of life to be fascinating (girl, young unmarried woman, young married woman, married woman, widow, married servant, unmarried servant) to be fascinating. The lives of men (boys, servants, young unmarried men, married men) are also well described. The story itself pulls all these lives together and shows how intertwined they have become over the years; as well as how any one person's fortunes or hopes can change so quickly.
novelloverEF More than 1 year ago
Shilpa Agarwal's debut novel is written with the deft hand of one who truly knows how to tell a good story. Her characters come to life on the very first page, and as she weaves the story, creating such mystery and intense yearning to know the secrets hidden in the souls of these characters who by the end feel like old friends, she leaves the reader breatheless, spent, slightly disoriented, not wanting the story to end. Haunting Bombay is so good you'll have to read it many times because you'll be reading so fast, caught up in the drama, that every time will be like reading it anew.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While this book isnt all that great, its not too shabby, either. I personally enjoy reading stories that take place in India, so I was entertained. It takes you straight into the heart of the household during monsoon. As for the plot, its okay... a little far fetched, but the ending leaves much to be desired. The characters are very enjoyable, though.
LynnHarnett More than 1 year ago
It's 1960 and partitioned India is rife with factions, superstitions, violence and oppression. The Mittal household, living in a rambling bungalow in the old colonial enclave of Malabar Hill, Bombay, presents a comfortable, serene exterior to the world. But behind the walls, amid the remnants of British raj furnishings and "the aroma of sandalwood, peppers and fried cumin," the extended family seethes with desire and discontent. At the center of the story is Pinky, still more child than woman at 13. Left motherless at partition, she was claimed as an infant by Maji, the formidable matriarch in a white widow's sari, who rules the household although crippled with obesity. Pinky may be Maji's favorite but her aunt Savita despises the child. "She's not your sister, she would admonish her sons whenever Maji was out of earshot, she's your destitute cousin. Remember that." Savita's husband, Maji's only son, Jaginder, head of the family shipbreaking business, sneaks out every night to get drunk. The twins, 14, are rambunctious and teasing though not cruel. But the eldest boy, Nimish, 17, has always been kind to Pinky. Too kind, perhaps. Pinky is devastated to discover late one night that her cherished Nimish is in love with the girl next door, a girl even more sheltered than Pinky. In her anger, hoping Nimish will come out of his room to stop her, Pinky unbolts the door to the children's bath, a door that has been strictly bolted every night of her life. Though at first no one else in the house is aware, Pinky has unleashed the unsettled ghosts of a tragedy that shattered the household 13 years earlier. Disbelieved by everyone, menaced by the ghost no one else perceives, Pinky gropes for understanding - hoping to appease the ghost with empathy. But the ghost is having none of that and as the torrential monsoon breaks the stifling heat, tensions within the family - at first lulled by the cooling rains - reach a shattering point. Agarwal, a native of Bombay, now living in Los Angeles, sets the arc of this debut novel to the rhythm of India's climate. The parched heat strains tempers, and the still air lies heavy with secrets. The first monsoon rains bring giddy relief, renewing married love and awakening forbidden young hopes before the relentless wetness seeps into every crack and corner of the place, sprouting mold and hastening decay. Her prose is rich with aromas and colors and tactile sensations. The magic realism of spirits and superstitions festoon the daily routines of everyday. Women's lives are homebound and prescribed by virtue and duty (until cursed by widowhood), but men's bonds, though less visible, are nearly as restricting. The characters grow as the novel progresses, particularly those who seem at first to be almost background - the servants, especially Parvita, a formidable woman who has already survived more than most. And Agarwal branches out to include the sprawling city - from the Christian bars to the stultifying slums (where the shipbreaking company's workers live) and the terrifying underworld of criminals and mystical tantriks. A captivating, transporting novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There are so many facets to this book it's difficult to know where to begin. The characters are rich and well-defined as is the backdrop of Indian culture with its ancient lore and traditions. The plot develops around a singular family then spins out into the larger Bombay communities. The presence of the supernatural only strengthens the "otherworldliness" of the tale. You will keep turning the pages to find out what happens next! I highly recommend this book. A wonderful escape and it would make a terrific Mother's Day gift! It is brilliantly written and well worth the time to read it.
SheFilms More than 1 year ago
I love this book! It reminds me of the magical realism of Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez... The book is intoxicating in the way that it pulls you in, the further you get, the deeper you go, and it's a very rewarding finish. Completely unpredictable. It rivets the reader with exquisite details that make you feel as if you are really living inside this upper-class Indian family and experiencing the haunting... It's about the clash of the old India and the new; about women who seek independence but are still tightly guarded; about a place where the importance of food, sex and literature is woven into the culture. In this world you don't turn to Freud for the answers, but you inquire to the Hindu gods and to the tantric who lives in the underworld of Bombay. The journey of this novel utterly gripping, to the point where I could not put it down.