Hailed as one of the most delightful new voices in the recent wave of young writers of Indian origin, Anita Rau Badami has spun an enchanting tale in her newest novel, “The Hero”s Walk.”
This is her second novel, but the first to be published in America. Badami, who lives in Canada, recently beat out Margaret Atwood”s “The Blind Assassin,” winning The Commonwealth Prize in the Canadian/Caribbean region. As an immigrant from India, Badami masterfully weaves her newfound Western world with that of the quickly changing East. Her juxtaposition of the two is one of the novel”s many enlightening qualities.
In a small coastal town near Bengal, Badami”s cast of characters live and conduct their daily lives. Her primary character, Shripathi Roy, is a middle-aged copywriter who has somehow managed to reside in the same big house on Brahmin Street since birth. In the mornings, before ambling off to a job that he hates, Shripathi writes scathing letters to the editors of local papers under the pseudonym “Pro Bono Publico.” Accompanying him through his humdrum existence is his bizarre family. His cantankerous old mother constantly threatens to die and rob them all of her existence. His 41-year-old, unmarried sister is ready to implode with sexual frustration. His son, Arun, is an environmentalist who chooses to ignore his father”s spiteful comments and remain unemployed. And his wife Nirmala, who he often finds all too ordinary, resents him for the estrangement of their only daughter Maya, who lives across the world in Canada.
When an accident forces Shripathi to become responsible for Maya”s 7-year-old daughter, Nandana, the relative tranquility of the entire family is shattered. Shripathi in particular must re-learn everything he once knew about children, but his strange 7-year-old grandchild is troubled and proves to be a challenge. His 57-year accumulation of various realities seems somehow irrelevant and non-applicable now.
Badami”s fantastic characters are, above all else, authentic and credible. They are both beautiful and terrible at the same time, concurrently frightened and brave. Faced with a changing world both on the large scale and the small, they watch as India becomes westernized. Ancestral houses up and down the block are leveled and replaced by tenement-like apartment buildings. Each individual is on the brink of metamorphosis as well, fighting to better understand themselves, their family and perhaps the planet in general.
Badami”s language is warm, sensual and descriptive, bringing life and vitality to her narrative. Moments of emotional intensity exchanged between the family members are the real gems in this novel. A style that is deliberate and thoughtful but never lags may leave you intricately involved with the lives of her characters and regretful to leave them behind.