Why do you read a novel?
Is it for pleasure?
To get new insights into different lives and experiences?
A window to a new world?
I ask because while Ganga Jamuna, the third novel by Singapore-based writer Sunita Lad Bhamray, ticks boxes two and three, it’s tough going at times.
The episodic narrative is reminiscent of early English language novels, such as Moll Flanders or Gulliver’s Travels, or even later works such as Great Expectations, where catastrophes and upturns of good fortune pile on one another in almost unbelievably quick succession.
But, on balance, like the classics, Ganga Jamuna is worth the effort.
The book is set in Nepal where, after the death of his wife, Shankar Pradhan decides to devote himself to spirituality.
He hands over all his money to the Pashupatinath Temple Trust and moves to Kathmandu where he and his young daughter Abani set up home within the Temple compound.
It’s a lonely life for Abani, but she eventually makes friends with Sriniwas Bhatt, the slightly younger son of another Temple family.
They are separated for a number of years while Abani studies at the University of New Delhi but are re-united when she returns and, after a single night of passion, the inevitable happens.
Unfortunately, the Bhatt’s don’t approve of the alliance and Sriniwas is sent away not knowing that Abani is carrying his twins.
The babies, named Ganga and Jamuna, after the Indian sub-continent’s two holiest rivers, are conjoined at the head and the novel follows Abani’s attempts to build a meaningful life for herself and her daughters with the support of an astonishing number of kind-hearted and almost unbelievably generous friends.
It’s all a bit too good to be true but what sets the novel apart is Lad Bhamray’s distinctive voice.
It’s a voice that seems to come from an oral rather than a written tradition and, from the opening page, it feels as if this is a story written to be read aloud, one chapter at a time.
As such, it’s an interesting reading experience, helped on its way by sometimes lyrical, and culturally specific, use of imagery.
It’s doubtful that any UK woman would be flattered to have ‘pale skin that seemed as appetising as freshly-set rich yoghurt’.
Yet it’s a stunning image.
And the sort of thing that makes it worth sticking with this book.
I’m glad I read it and I’d urge you to do the same.
Review by Sue Featherstone.
Ganga Jamuna is available to buy at Kitaa International.