Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Review: Such a Long Journey

Such a Long Journey, Rohinton Mistry
Historical fiction

There's a mall downtown that my parents used to take me to when I was younger. We'd usually go during the holidays to see all the decorations. On the second level, there was a walkway lined with windows that connected two parts of the mall above the street. My parents would get cappuccinos from the Second Cup that used to be there and we'd sit by the windows watching the traffic go by while I spooned the cinnamon dusted foam off my mom's coffee. That mall still exists but is mostly office space now and has since been renamed. It's one of several places that has changed names over the years but that I still call by its old name. The mall was what came to mind when I read this passage in Such a Long Journey:

"Names are so important. I grew up on Lamington Road. But it has disappeared, in its place is Dadasaheb Bhadkhamkar Marg. My school was on Carnac Road. Now suddenly it's on Lokmanya Tilak Marg. I live at Sleater Road. Soon that will also disappear. My whole life I have come to work at Flora Fountain. And one fine day the name changes. So what happens to the life I have lived? Was I living the wrong life, with all the wrong names? Will I get a second chance to live it all again, with these new names? Tell me what happens to my life. Rubbed out, just like that? Tell me!"

Using the old names is way of hanging on to that life and those memories. It's a way of clinging to the past, like Gustad, the novel's main character, tends to do. There are many journeys in the book, both literal and figurative, that serve to push Gustad toward letting go of the past and start moving forward.

The novel takes place in 1971, when war is brewing between India and Pakistan. This is a time in India's history I was not familiar with since most books I gravitate to are set during Partition (1947). That made it interesting. The story itself was interesting as well, with a good mix of characters and a bit of mystery. The different personalities and goings on of the residents of Khodadad Building were entertaining.

As much as I enjoyed the book, I have to admit that when I finished, I felt like I'd missed something or maybe some of it went over my head. It might have been that my expectations were off; the blurb implied that Roshan's (Gustad's daughter) illness and Gustad's conflict with his eldest son were going to be a really big deal but they were more background issues that just kind of fizzled out. Then again, I have found myself thinking about the book since finishing it so maybe it's one of those books that you appreciate more after reading it, as it sits with you?

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