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Book Review: Love and Longing in Bombay
Author: Vikram Chandra
Reviewed by Yit Arn Teh

As a southeast Asian expatriate living in North America, I felt particularly touched by Vikram Chandra’s book of short stories, Love and Longing in Bombay. The stories were able to evoke something of the cultural complexity, the contradictions and vitality of life in postcolonial Asia. The stories echoed my own sense of experience, coming of age in metropolitan Singapore.

I think I would be grossly misrepresenting Mr. Chandra’s work if I simply described each of the stories as a tale from a well-established genre, i.e., "the ghost story," "the love story," or "the murder mystery." The stories use the device of "the ghost story," "the romance," etc. as a vehicle to explore deeper questions of self-knowledge, romantic love, postcolonial culture and the like. Each story explores the inner lives of the characters in question. It delves into their emotional experiences, their ambitions, passions and fears. The characters carry a kind of realistic weight to them; they are not simply symbols or archetypes constructed to communicate the author’s ideas.

The characters themselves are nested within the rich cultural and social tapestry of modern, cosmopolitan Bombay. There is little or nothing of the "exotic" or the mythological in Mr. Chandra’s portrayal of the city and its inhabitants; it is very much a set of stories told from the perspective of an inhabitant, familiar with the ways of the city. In that respect, Love and Longing in Bombay is quite unlike the writing of south Asian expatriates, such as V.S. Naipaul, or colonial writers such as E.M. Forster. The writing is not obsessed with notions of difference, nor does the writing focus on perceptions of "Otherness." The stories convey a sense of authenticity of experience to the reader, without a hint of the expatriate and/or neo-colonial filters that so often appear in "books about India."

I’d highly recommend this book to those interested in modern south Asian literature. Love and Longing in Bombay is available in paperback from Amazon.com for $11.70.

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