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.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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
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.
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“Will definitely appeal to fans of Monica Ali and Jhumpa Lahiri . . . fresh, original.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review