LONGLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2015
A stark and unflinching novel by a spellbinding storyteller, about religion, love and violence in the modern world.
A train stops at a railway station. A young woman jumps off. She has wild hair, sloppy clothes, a distracted air. She looks Indian, yet she is somehow not. The sudden violence of what happens next leaves the other passengers gasping.
The train terminates at Jarmuli, a temple town by the sea. Here, among pilgrims, priests and ashrams, three old women disembark only to encounter the girl once again. What is someone like her doing in this remote corner, which attracts only worshippers?
Over the next five days, the old women live out their long-planned dream of a holiday together; their temple guide finds ecstasy in forbidden love; and the girl is joined by a photographer battling his own demons.
The full force of the evil and violence beneath the serene surface of the town becomes evident when their lives overlap and collide. Unexpected connections are revealed between devotion and violence, friendship and fear, as Jarmuli is revealed as a place with a long, dark past that transforms all who encounter it.
Travelling to India, to a fictional Vishnu temple in a beachside town, Nomi is returning to the land of her birth as well as to the place that haunts her memory. Having lost her family during an unspecified war, Nomi, at age seven, was brought to an ashram, kept captive, and sexually abused by the guru. She escaped at 12, entered an orphanage, was adopted, and taken to Europe. Now living in Sweden and in her mid-20s, Nomi comes back to India to work on a documentary film; Roy's novel sets the stage for her research, as she wanders the beach where she may have last seen her mother and the crumbling bricks and broken glass of what was the ashram compound. The cast of characters includes an earnest temple guide, three older women on pilgrimage, and Nomi's local production assistant, Suraj, who's going through a divorce. Many of the flashbacks, though they're essential for depth and clarity, feel forced, as Roy (The Folded Earth) tries to stitch together the child's trauma with the adult's insight. At the same time, however, the overlapping stories make for a rich and absorbing consideration of where the past ends and the present begins.