My friend Edgar told me about Red Earth and Pouring Rain. I respect and appreciate his opinions. I'm glad I followed his recommendation.
This is a large book (542 pages) that is layered and convoluted and rich. I made the mistake of starting it around the holidays. I kept picking it up when I had a few minutes and putting it aside, until I finally had time to give it my full attention. I think it would be best read straight through instead of in pieces. It's stories within stories within stories. I admit that by the time I got to the end, I wasn't sure who had told which story. But it's a terrific book. Just make sure you have enough time to devote to it.
I think the book is about the power of storytelling. Like Sanjay and Scheherazade, stories keep us alive, whether we're telling them or listening to them. We readers experience storytelling through books. But there's a special power to oral storytelling. Jay O'Callahan, a friend of mine, is a professional storyteller. Sitting in his office listening to him rehearse his stories, we were transported, transfixed by his voice and his stories. It's magic.
The story starts with a young Indian man, Abhay, returning to his parents' house in India. He has been at college in California. We later learn that he's brought his girlfriend with him, but before they get to his home, India defeats her and she returns to the United States.
So Abhay gets home in a bad mood. A monkey that his parents have been feeding for years and years appears and steals Abhay's jeans off the clothesline. He's had enough and he shoots the monkey. His parents are horrified and he's sorry, too. They nurse the monkey back to health - and the monkey starts typing on the father's typewriter.
The monkey is Sanjay, a poet who has been reincarnated. Hindu gods appear: Yama, Hanuman, and Ganesha. Yama, the god of death, agrees to allow Sanjay to live on as a monkey as long as he and Abhay's family give them two hours of stories a day. As Sanjay types, one of the family reads what he's written. People from the village, and then from farther away, start coming to hear the stories. Soon, huge groups crowd the square to listen.
Sanjay and his brothers, by different mothers, were conceived in an inconceivable fashion: their mothers were impregnated by eating sweets specially made for one of the women who wanted sons instead of daughters. One son, Sikander, grows up to be a great warrior. One, Chotta, follows his brother Sikander. And Sanjay aspires to be a great poet.
This is mostly Sanjay's story, and that of his brothers. But when Sanjay is tired, Abhay tells several stories of his life in California. It's also the story of India, her subjugation by the British and her freedom. The story takes place mostly in India, but Sanjay travels to England for revenge and to stop a Jack-the-Ripper style killer.
There is beautiful, magical writing, there are magical, mystical people, there are battles, there are murders, there are love stories, there are unbelievable events that you, somehow, find yourself believing.