Thursday, January 15, 2009

Big trip

On Saturday we leave on our jaunt from Taipei to Singapore to India (Karnataka and Kerala) to Egypt (Cairo and Luxor) to the USA and back to Taipei (on February 25). For the first time in my life I will have crossed every line of longitude.

In preparation for my first trip to India I have read up the remaining pieces of Indian fiction on our bookshelves. An Obedient Father by Akhil Sharma, the story of a corrupt low-level official in Delhi, is a difficult and often disgusting book to read. I've read short fiction with disgustingly unlikeable protagonists, but An Obedient Father is the first full-length novel I've read with such a unpleasant first-person narrator. Sharma makes it readable by making you feel pity for the main character, even though you'll never like him.

Like Rohinton Mistry and Manil Suri, Sharma's fiction depicts Indian society warts and all - particularly the warts. That's good for me. Helps me be prepared for what I'm likely to see. I've been to developing countries (Indonesia and the Philippines), but I've never seen the sort of large-scale poverty I've heard I should be prepared for.

Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala won the Booker Prize in 1975. It's about a British woman who comes to India to learn the story of a relative of hers who eloped with a local ruler back in the 1920s. Jhabvala married into Indian society rather than being born into it, so she can look at India with a knowledgable foreigner's eye.

In Beautiful Disguises by Rajeev Balasubraman is the story of a girl from a small town in Karnataka who travels to The City (never named, but I assume it's Mumbai) to seek her fame and fortune. I enjoyed this book quite a bit. The main character (whose name we never learn) is immensely likeable. Balasubraman felt the need to invent a cartoony female antagonist who seems an amalgam of every Disney villainess, from Snow White's Evil Stepmother to Cruella de Vil. At first this annoyed me a bit, but then I figured it fit the book's dreamy, we're-all-characters-in-the-movies tone.

As for the actual logistics of getting around India, I'm leaving that to Rough Guide and Jenna's knowledge of the place. Should be fun.

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