Author Archive

• Saturday, October 26th, 2019

Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi was born in Juhu, Mumbai in 1977. In 1999 he obtained an MA degree in International Journalism at the University of Westminster in London, where he specialised in photography. He also received an MS degree in Mass Communications from San Jose State University in 2002.

Shanghvi worked as a chef and a kennel boy before becoming a writer. He writes articles for magazines and newspapers including the Sunday Times Of India, San Francisco Chronicle and Elle. He presently lives between Albany, California and Mumbai, India.

The Last Song Of Dusk, published in 2004, is Shanghvi’s acclaimed first novel which has been translated into several languages. It received the prestigious British Betty Trask Award given to outstanding first novels for writers under the age of thirty-five. It also won the Italian Premio Grinzane Cavour for the Best Debut Novel and was nominated for the International Dublin Literary Award.

The story of The Last Song Of Dusk is set in colonial India of the 1920s. It starts with the beautiful twenty-one-year-old Anuradha Patwardhan, who is gifted with a beautiful voice and with such bewitching songs that they say that “when she sings, even the moon listens”.

The novel begins with Anuradha leaving her family home in Udaipur and travelling with her father to Bombay for a matchmaking marriage, all arranged by her aunt, Radha-mashi, to a man that Anuradha has never met before. The man is twenty-seven-year-old, very handsome, “highly thought of”, physician, Vardhamaan Gandharva, who is also a skilled storyteller.

The fifth line of the first chapter of the novel foreshadows future tragic events as a sort of kismet (fate). It is implied just before the protagonist’s departure for Bombay to meet her prospective suitor. Her mother clutches “her lovely hand through the window of the black Victoria and whispers: “in this life, my darling, there is no mercy”. The die is cast.

Later in the book, the author writes: “We’ll probably never save our soul (…) Life essentially seeks out balance. I have found that it is in the habit of trading one sorrow for one joy until one cancels out the other.”

The Last Song Of Dusk’s magic realism or elements of the fantastic, or “heightened realism” as the author prefers to call it, comes from the author’s fertile imagination. It is illustrated by Anuradha, who is a legend in Udaipur, her home town, for her spellbinding songs, which are entrancing melodies passed on by her family.

The peacocks gather in the train station upon Anuradha’s call to bid her farewell by “unfurling a melody”. The talking, malicious pet parrot, Zenobia, belonging to Vardhamaan’s ugly, sinister, abusive and jealous stepmother, Divi-bai. Vardhamaan and Anuradha shared the family house with her, preceding the terrible accidental death of their three-year-old son, Mohan, who probably died due to the curse of the couple’s stepmother unable to bear the happiness of others.

While still grieving their son’s death, Vardhamaan and Anuradha, who are slowly pulling away from each other, move to a new home by the seaside in Bombay. The “disconsolate” “Sea Palace” or Dariya Mahal in Gujarati is still mourning its previous occupant, Edward, son of Lord and Lady Beauford. Edward is a passionate lover, who dies heartbroken waiting for his beloved Indian, who does not share the same feeling and therefore never returns.

Since Edward’s death, the bereaved Dariya Mahal antagonises its new lodgers. Shloka, the couple’s second son, born in Dariya Mahal, stays alive because his mother makes a pact with the bedevilled house saying: “let my child live…and I’ll send the child away…from you…from all of this…to a place of safety”. Nevertheless, the child is born mute for no plausible reason apart from the pertaining evil house’s wrath.

Shanghvi’s imagination stretches further with the beautifully irresistible, fourteen-year-old orphan girl, Nandini Hariharan. She is a distant cousin, who joins Anuradha and Vardhamaan in Dariya Mahal. Nandini is a bohemian autodidactic artist who is not afraid of provoking scandals. She is a beedi smoker and walks on water as well as mates with leopards. Nandini is uncharacteristically precocious for her age and time.

The saying goes that: “seven generations back, on her maternal side, a woman had coupled with a leopard in the mountains of Matheran and to this day the family could not rid the bane of cat’s blood in their veins. Blood that made the women gorgeous and selfish and recondite”.

The Last Song Of Dusk is the saga of a family who, despite being struck by disasters, never yields. An original dark tale which depicts several calamities, loss, grievance and love. The writing is abundant with diverse, evocative, detailed descriptions as well as elaborate metaphors. The author makes his reader navigates amid a parade of colourful characters throughout the pages.

Nandini meets Gandhi and makes a daring remark about his hand-woven loincloth being sexy. She becomes the muse of Khalil Muratta; the sought after painter. Some of the characters are eccentric, like Libya Dass “who for years hauled along her alabaster bathtub to parties, where it was brought up like a palanquin”. Others are minor characters like Anuradha’s best friend, the terminally ill Pallavi and the sixteen-year-old Irish schoolboy, Sherman Miller, who is besotted with Nandini from the first time they meet.

The author portrays tormented characters evoking the reader’s empathy. As for the unnecessary crude sex scenes, they are used aplenty. The story, which entangles reality with fantasy, has an overall overwhelming melancholy feeling. The fleeting moments of happiness are brief – it is a mixture of tragic “kismet” and lust. The author says: “I’m very interested in the ways we transact sexual desire, the nature of longing, and how we grieve”.

• Saturday, September 28th, 2019

Eowyn Ivey was born in Denver, Colorado, USA in 1973 and was raised in Alaska since early childhood. She still lives in rural Alaska with her fishery biologist husband and two daughters. The author’s mother named her “Eowyn” after a character from J. R. R. Tolkien’s book, Lord Of The Rings.

Eowyn Ivey received a B.A. Degree in Journalism and Creative Writing from Western Washington University and worked as a reporter for the local newspaper “The Frontiersman” before becoming a bookseller at independent Fireside Books in Palmer, Alaska. She has written essays and short fiction which have been published in various magazines.

Eowyn Ivey’s first novel, The Snow Child, was published in 2012. It became a New York Times’ bestseller, a UK National Book Award winner and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for first novel in 2013. It has been translated into several languages.

The Snow Child is a fairy-tale set in Alaska in the 1920s. It is inspired by the old classic Russian folk, fairy-tale called Snegurochka – The Snow Maiden – that Ivey happened to come across in the bookshop where she works. That is when she had, as she says in one of her interviews: “one of those rare, lightning-strike moments” about the book she wanted to write.

The story had previously been translated from Russian to English and called “Little Daughter Of The Snow” by the Yorkshire born writer, Arthur Ransome (1884-1967), which Ivey read with great interest before writing her book. She says: “One of the most striking and influential versions for me was Ransome’s The Little Daughter Of The Snow… It provided some very important elements to my story”.

The tale of “The Snow Child” revolves around a married couple, Jack and Mabel, who, encouraged by the US government’s financial help to settle in an inhospitable frontier, moved from Pennsylvania two years previously to a bleak farm in the Alaskan wilderness.

The couple wanted to escape from their home in the USA after the loss of their stillborn child ten years earlier and to overcome their inability to conceive since then. Jack works relentlessly to exhaustion on the farm and Mabel takes care of the household. She feels sad, desperately lonely and depressed to the point of being suicidal.

Now that the couple is well into middle-age their life will change for good after playfully building a beautiful little girl out of the first snowfall of the season. They adorn her with yellow grass hair and red lips from squeezed frozen red berries. Her arms are made of birch branches and a red scarf wraps her neck. They add mittens at the ends of birch branches stuck to her torso and dress her in a skirt and a coat.

The following day they find the little girl they sculpted has turned into “a small, broken heap of snow” while the scarf and mittens have disappeared. A similar child to the one they built the previous evening is furtively seen by Jack, running at the edge of the forest.

The couple’s longing to become parents is satisfied when a beautiful wild, enigmatic, taciturn, pale and shy blond child comes to their doorstep. She is wearing the same red scarf and the same mittens that they had fitted on the snow child they had built. They love her as their daughter and consider her as the sunshine of their life. She tells them that her name is Faina which means “shining light” in Russian.

The Snow Child is a slow-paced, bittersweet, magical and moving tale with few characters. It vividly depicts the ambience of the harsh, chilly, boundless Alaskan wilderness.

The story has two sides: fantasy with Faina, the snow girl who represents the wild forests of bitter cold Alaska, and the reality portrayed by a married couple drifting apart through loss, longing, heartbreak, grief and struggle to survive against adversity, while hoping for a serene life and a better tomorrow.

In the novel, the author tackles various themes: the importance of community life, parenthood, true friendship and family bonds as valuable support during hard times. The story, like the Russian tale, Snegurochka that Mabel’s father read to her when she was a child, does not have a happy ending.

After reading the novel, the reader is left with the haunting question about Faina, who gives birth to a human boy that they call Jack (Jay). Does Faina transform into a human before reverting to a fairy and disappearing? Is she half-fairy, half-human? A puzzle left for the reader’s imagination to resolve like the whole enigma surrounding Faina – the subtle, mysterious essence and the beauty of a fairy-tale.

“The girl appeared and disappeared without warning … There was something otherworldly in her manners and appearance, her frosty lashes and cool blue stare, the way she materialized out of the forest. In ways she was clearly just a little girl, with her small frame and rare, stifled giggles, but in others she seemed composed and wise, as if she moved through the world with knowledge beyond anything”.

Ivey’s writing is fluid and her characters are endearing. The Snow Child is a book to read during the holidays on hot summer days in the hope of feeling cooler and refreshed by the vivid, detailed imagery of an unyielding, unspoilt, rough nature with a landscape laden with ice, snow and icy wind.