Point of Return: A Novel

Point of Return: A Novel

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by Siddhartha Deb

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Set in the remote, northeastern hills of India, The point of return revolves around the father-son relationship of a willful, curious boy, Babu, and Doctor Dam, an enigmatic product of British colonial rule and Nehruvian nationalism. Told in reverse chronological order, the novel examines an India where the ideals that brought freedom from colonial rule are

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Set in the remote, northeastern hills of India, The point of return revolves around the father-son relationship of a willful, curious boy, Babu, and Doctor Dam, an enigmatic product of British colonial rule and Nehruvian nationalism. Told in reverse chronological order, the novel examines an India where the ideals that brought freedom from colonial rule are beginning to crack under the pressure of new rebellions and conflicts. For Dr. Dam and Babu, this has meant living as strangers in the same home, puzzled and resentful, tied only by blood. As the father grows weary and old and the son tries to understand him, clashes between ethnic groups in their small town show them to be strangers to their country as well. Before long, Babu finds himself embarking on a great journey, an odyssey through the memories of his father, his family, and his nation.

Editorial Reviews

Booklist (starred review )
San Diego Union-Tribune
“The interplay of political events and intergenerational conflict is wonderfully portrayed.”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“Deb’s touch is sure, his voice pure, his understanding faultless.”
New York Times Book Review
“Siddhartha Deb has imagined a kind of Indian Don Quixote.”
The New York Times
What holds the novel together, what provides its many heart-stopping moments, is the pathos of a failed father-son relationship. Babu, sometimes merely disaffected, sometimes downright cruel to his milquetoast father, is the novel's narrator. Dr. Dam's life, as his son sees it while he is growing up, is a series of failures. — Suzanne Ruta
Publishers Weekly
An "inept archeologist of memories" is how Babu, the narrator of Deb's elegiac debut novel, describes himself in this perceptive, if convoluted, tale about a generation gap between father and son in 1970s and '80s India. Babu's narrative unfolds in reverse chronological order as he tries to do justice to his father's life. Dr. Dam, a Hindu veterinary surgeon, has to flee his native Bengal when India is partitioned in 1947. He moves to a northern hill town in the state of Assam and becomes a civil servant, one of the few who is conspicuously upstanding in a corrupt postpartition bureaucracy where bribery and thievery reign. By the time Babu is born in 1970, Dr. Dam, now aged 44, has changed. He still has his old-fashioned rectitude (which Babu finds embarrassing) and Nehru-inspired ideals of national unity (which seem increasingly irrelevant as sectarian violence blooms), but he refuses to challenge the ineptitude around him. To Babu, Dr. Dam's servility in dealing with high-ranking, unrefined superiors smacks of a colonial mentality, remnants of his youth under the Raj. Babu learns much later about a long-ago pivotal incident in which his father felt duty-bound to reveal graft and paid a terrible price. Deb draws a sharp, memorable picture of the misunderstandings between father and son, exacerbated by rapid changes in India's political and cultural landscape. The structure of the narrative sometimes makes it hard to understand the chronology of events, but Deb convincingly shows how Babu comes to admire and mourn his father, and movingly dramatizes the immersion of individual lives in the flow of history. (Mar.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This debut novel traces the life of a young Indian named Babu, focusing on his often uneasy relationship with his father, Dr. Dam. The story begins after the veterinarian has retired and then reverses, a distinctive approach that proves effective. By regularly refusing to make the ethical compromises that his fellow bureaucrats often deem acceptable, Dr. Dam has distinguished himself as a civil servant. His refusal isolates him from both his colleagues and his son, and, as Babu soon discovers, this alienation runs even deeper. Not only is Dr. Dam a refugee from East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh), but he also lives with his family in a remote northeastern Indian village, which suffers from violent ethnic strife between indigenous people and so-called foreigners, mostly Bengalis like the Dams. Because Dr. Dam never exploits the system, Babu ends up inheriting only his father's sense of alienation and must find his way back from a strong sense of not belonging. Ultimately, Babu's moving account of his family's history becomes a powerful metaphor for India's struggles to overcome its colonial past and reconcile the differences that political violence have engendered in the northeast. Recommended to broaden collections of South Asian fiction.-Faye A. Chadwell, Univ. of Oregon Libs., Eugene Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A rambling debut by Indian-born Deb concerns the troubled recent history of his homeland, seen through the eyes of a young man whose father fled Pakistan as a refugee. One of the bloodiest civil wars in history took place in 1947, after the British ceded control to the new states of India (overwhelmingly Hindu) and Pakistan (largely Muslim, with a significant Hindu minority). The ensuing conflict cost over a million lives, and many times that number were displaced from their homes. One of these was Doctor Dam, a Hindu veterinarian whose family had lived for generations on a farm in East Pakistan. After the Partition, Dam settled in the neighboring Indian state of Assam, bringing his father and three of his brothers along with him. Trained under the British, Dam thought of himself as a public servant above all else, and he soon became a significant figure in local government, organizing farmers' cooperatives and working out programs for the efficient harvesting and distribution of milk and crops. His innate sense of propriety and his unwillingness to abuse his position for personal gain, however, made him something of an anomaly in the new regime-which was rife with nepotism and corruption-and even created tensions between Dam and his son Babu, who considered his father's notions of duty excessively "British." Babu narrates the tale in reverse chronological order, beginning with his father as an old man struggling to secure his pension and following him back through the turmoil of the nearby Bangladeshi war in the 1970s. Although primarily about one man's life, the tale mirrors larger struggles (poverty, religious conflict, official neglect) that faced India, as well as the archetypalgeneration gap that fathers and sons struggle with everywhere. Deb's badly organized account suffers from a tangled plot that often seems more meditation than narrative-and ends up as an uncomfortable amalgam of family saga and historical novel. Agent: David Miller/Rogers, Coleridge and White, UK

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.72(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Meet the Author

Siddhartha Deb was born in northeastern India in 1970. His first novel, The Point of Return, was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. His reviews and journalism have appeared in the Boston Globe, the Guardian, The Nation, the New Statesman, and the Times Literary Supplement. He came to New York on a literary fellowship in 1998, and now divides his time between India and New York.

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