Hullabaloo In The Guava Orchard – Book Review

So, at the family’s pleading, Dr. Banerjee, who prided himself on being a good sport, hoisted himself into the tree, stethoscope and blood pressure pump about his neck. He climbed all the way up to Sampath so he could look into his eyes and ears, check his tongue, listen to his heart, take his blood pressure and hit his knee with an expertly aimed karate-like move of his hand. Then he climbed down and got back into the scooter rickshaw he had arrived in. ‘He is a crazy person,’ he said, beaming, the mirth of the entire situation too much for him. ‘Nobody except God can do anything about that.’ And he disappeared back into town. -From Hullabaloo In The Guava Orchard, page 56-

Kiran Desai, Booker prize winning author of The Inheritance of Loss, has written a quirky satire about a family living in India. The book, set in a village called Shahkot, opens with the main character’s birth during the beginning of monsoon season. Twenty years later, Sampath Chawla has disappointed his family with his meaningless lifestyle and lack of motivation.

‘Phoo!’ Mr. Chawla snorted. ‘Progress! Ever since he was born, this boy has been progressing steadily in the wrong direction. Instead of trying to work his way upward, he started on the downward climb and now he is almost as close to the bottom as he could ever be’

‘But the world is round,’ said Ammaji, pleased by her own cleverness. ‘Wait and see! Even if it appears he is going downhill, he will come up out on the other side. Yes, on top of the world. He is just taking the longer route.’ -From Hullabaloo In The Guava Orchard, page 26-

One day, Sampath boards a bus into the country, and ends up climbing a tree in a guava orchard. From there, things get decidedly strange as the villagers grant him holy man status due to his propensity to mutter bizarre adages such as: ‘Some people can only digest fish cooked in a light curry. Others are of a sour disposition and should not eat pickled fish.’

Filled with eccentric characters such as Kulfi, Sampath’s mother who is obsessed with food; and Pinky, Sampath’s sister who is looking for love but has an aggressive streak…the book borders on weird. The humor is subtle and entrenched in the Indian experience – so I felt like I was missing some of the satire.

Although Desai’s writing is engaging, the story ends abruptly and left me largely unsatisfied. This one is forgettable.

Not recommended.

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    • Anonymous on December 22, 2007 at 17:12

    I so agree with you on this one – loathed the book. It held such promise – but did not follow through for me either

    • Anonymous on December 22, 2007 at 22:50

    I really wanted to like this one, Sally – but it was so strange! I feel like Desai is one of those writers who lose me a bit…I wonder if I was from India if this would have read better. It was a disappointment.

    • Anonymous on February 10, 2008 at 05:47

    It was interesting to read a different view of this book.
    I loved this book and found it a hilarious satire. But as you have mentioned, ‘The humor is subtle and entrenched in the Indian experience’, so perhaps I am biased!
    I did not like the ending much, either. It was surreal and abrupt.

    • Anonymous on February 10, 2008 at 14:41

    You are one of the few readers who I’ve read liked this one 🙂 But, as you said, perhaps it is your unique perspective.

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