‘Not exactly like home’: Review of Manju Kapur’s novel THE IMMIGRANT

MANJU KAPUR, "THE IMMIGRANT"

 Delhi: Random House India, 2008, ISBN 978 81 8400 048 1, hard covers, 337 pp.

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Review by Dr Christopher Rollason

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Manju Kapur’s fourth novel is about an Indian immigrant couple in Canada. Here is an extract from my review –

full text on-line at:

http://yatrarollason.info/files/ManjuImmigrantreview.pdf

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Manju Kapur has already achieved a high degree of both critical and popular success, in India and abroad, as an admired exponent of Indian Writing in English (IWE), with her three previous novels, Difficult Daughters (1998), A Married Woman (2002) and Home (2006). The Immigrant, her fourth novel, in some ways observes continuity with its predecessors and in other ways breaks new ground. The Delhi-based novelist and lecturer (currently on sabbatical) at Delhi University’s Miranda House College has by now won a reputation as a frank and sensitive chronicler of the lives of (generally Hindu) Indian middle-class or lower-middle-class families and, above all, their women members.

Temporally speaking, Kapur’s territory has variously been today’s India and – what is not the same thing – her country’s recent past. If A Married Woman had a near-contemporary setting, while Difficult Daughters ushered its characters from pre-Independence days up to the time of writing and Home from the mid-60s to near to the present, The Immigrant here differs from all three in being located throughout in a period recent but not contemporary, the 1970s of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency. Spatially, too, it represents a new departure: Difficult Daughters did not range outside the subcontinent, while in A Married Woman and Home the non-Indian world (the UK, the US) featured as vacation destinations and, in the former case, also as an academic mecca, but both narratives were set overwhelmingly in India. The Immigrant, by contrast and as its title suggests, divides its fictional locales between India and Canada (with a couple of excursions to the US), thus and despite the time-lag with the present locating India in the vexed context of globalisation with far greater emphasis than any earlier Kapur novel. Sociologically, and looking at the class and occupational backgrounds of the characters, if Home found Kapur exploring the (non-English-speaking) lives of people lower on the social hierarchy than the educated folk of her first two novels, here we are back in firmly middle-class territory, with characters’ conditions ranging from the shabby-genteel to the nouveau riche but with educatedness, command of English and a certain international veneer always presumed. (…)

NB: for a link to a recent interview with Manju Kapur, see entry on this blog for 12 August 2008

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Note added 10 March 2009:

This review has now been published in:

SEVA BHARATI JOURNAL OF ENGLISH STUDIES (Midnapore, India), Vol V, Feb 2009, pp. 105-109. For more oin the journal issue, see entry on this blog, 9 March 2009.

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Note added 28 September 2010

This novel has been longlisted for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. See:

http://www.hindustantimes.com/14-authors-vie-for-South-Asian-literature-prize/Article1-603017.aspx

"14 authors vie for South Asian literature prize"
Preeja Aravind, Hindustan Times, 21 September 2010

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