Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Hope Factory - a review

I have been reading a lot of Indian authors lately. Not entirely a conscious decision, but that's the way it's been. There have been good books, tolerable books and terribly disappointing ones as well. Let me be honest - I haven't put up reviews of the really disappointing ones - call it a 'struggling' writer's empathy at play here :-) ...

But of all the recent ones that I have read, The Hope Factory by author Lavanya Shankaran made me sit up and do some serious reading. For two reasons : The first was that I was approached by a very professional sounding mail from an equally impressive (and punctual) gentleman handling the marketing of this book. Of course, this appealed tremendously to my waning ego as a writer of any talent. But more importantly, when  I actually set eyes on the book, I was swept away. Let me attempt to explain why, in my review here.

The first impression : Simply put, the cover of the book raises expectations. There probably could not have been a picture more apt for the novel than the photo of a young boy, obviously thrilled by something as simple as the splash of water on his face. There is something in the picture that speaks of hope, of happiness - even in hard times. In fact, this is the first time that I've been compelled to take a photo of my reading corner, just to capture that delicious image.

The work of art with the early morning Cuppa!
A closer look:

Plot : A rich weave of emotions, mundane life and the distinct divide in social classes that is so prevalent in our lives. The characters all have their 'human' element - a quirk here, a secret there, a weakness here and a strength there. There are two protagonists here - the successful entrepreneur Anand, and the hardworking domestic help Kamala who is engaged in Anand's upper middle class household. All the characters who fill out the canvas, from Anand's socialite wife, to the Fabindia kurta- wearing friend who has mothered a child whose father no one knows about, the cook who loses her temper too much, but cooks like a dream - all of them are not mere words on a page to the reader. As a talented writer friend (who is an accomplished blogger herself) confided when discussing the author's works, the apt words to describe Shankaran would be "Astonishingly perceptive"

There are two parallel worlds in the story - the first, a factory owners' bid to stay successful and positive, while trying to remain honest and fair to his employees. At the other end of the spectrum, a woman who has fought all odds to keep herself and her son alive in a world filled with apathy. The determined fighter in both the characters are confronted by challenges and temptations alike. The story is all about the decisions that they make, and their outcomes. Though there are some who would argue that there is very little that 'happens' in the book, one cannot stop turning one page after the other, floating through the lives of these characters, who try to live out their life in dignity.

Writing style : Of the recent barrage of Indian writers' works that have come into the market, this one stands apart in style. There is none of the 'firang' influence - neither in the choice of words used, nor in content of the story. These are carefully chosen words; chosen to bring out the emotion in its strongest form. Some of the lines may need repeated reads - not because the words are difficult, but because the author has used very 'visual' words. Shankaran approaches the emotionally laden parts of her story in a matter-of-fact way, which somehow, manages to make the whole incident more 'real' to the reader.

Note : Look out for a few poignant pages written in that matter-of-fact way when a construction worker has to 'steal' a bath of clean water. (That's it - not letting more out for fear of spoiling it for you :-) )

Character development : Shankaran's perceptiveness oozes through each character, from the kohl lines they draw, to the flowers they wear, to a benevolent smile on a poster. While this may reduce the pace of the story for some readers, I felt that this only added to the joy of reading the book. The story however, ends at a place that allows the reader to imagine the story further - a sequel perhaps?

Words and print quality : Firstly, I just love hardbound books - they feel lovely in the hand. The print quality, the paper, the spacing - all perfect to make a 350 page book seem like a breeze to read. No printing errors (atleast none that I could spot) and meticulous editing in the book is such a welcome change.

Final Verdict : A book for keeps; am glad that this beautiful book came my way. But even more delightful is the fact that unlike a book borrowed from a friend, this one stays right here on my dresser, for me to pull out and read in my cozy corner .........