I don’t quite know what to say about this book except that it surprised me with every turn of the page.
On the surface, this book is about one exceptional day in the life of the protagonist Akhila when her apartment complex literally crashes into the ground leaving dead and survivors trapped within the debris. Akhila is one of the lucky ones who gets out before the building crumbles.
However because of her size and medical backgroud, she is asked to crawl into a tunnel and help a survivor. She finds him mumbling in delirium that two people are on their way to carry out a terror attack.
Elsewhere a young intelligence agent, Mukundan, is assigned to shadow the two terror suspects. I don’t want to reveal more about the plot as it would spoil the surprises unfolding within the book.
I love many things about this book. The plot is not one of them however – it is a little weak.
What I do love about this book is the way it shows a mirror to Indian society. In India, there is always this divide between liberalism and conservatism (all over the world, I guess), and Manu Joseph lampoons them all. He mocks the liberal author Arundhati Roy’s posh villa who has (for real) mocked the house of the businessman Mukesh Ambani.
What all this means is that you need to be a little aware of some of the current issues trending in India to enjoy this book fully.
To do this lampooning, Manu Joseph employs the voice of the protagonist Akhila. She goes around the country playing pranks on liberal eggheads, Marxists, and anyone in this country who eats salad. She makes short films with sassy titles such as, How Feminist Men Have Sex (which is hilarious by the way – LOL stuff).
Akhila isn’t the only interesting character in the book. There is Damodar bhai (loosely based on Narendra Modi). There is the titular character Laila – Muslim, 19, and sole supporter of her mother and siblings. And there is Mukundan, a CBI agent with a conscience. All these characters were amazing in their own way, and all take turns driving the story forward, bringing forth their own unique perspective on the events unfolding.
This is a relatively short book, but it makes you think about some of the larger issues in the country. It brings out flaws among both liberals and conservatives, with some amount of mockery. You will not like this book if you have a thin skin or feel too strongly about Hindu sentiments, NaMo, and other similar issues. But if you are a liberal, you might be equally offended by some of his commentary on NGOs, Marxism, feminism, and the like.
But every once in a while it’s good to read a book that challenges your beliefs. And I think this book does a good job without swinging too far in either direction. It’s an equal opportunity offender.
Highly recommend this book!
I want to end this review with a quote from the book’s ending
There are faces only an Indian can make. Like that baffled face when he is shocked by the most logical outcome of his actions. He crosses the road like a cow, and he is startled by a truck. A vehicle on the road? How? He walks across the railway track, and he finds a train hurtling towards him. A train on a railway track? He is stunned.
I thought this was so funny and so true! Just today, a man jaywalked along the highway in front of my car. I had to brake really hard and I think I shook my fist at him. He looked so surprised, I immediately thought about this sentence, and really it was so true.