Kiran Desai’s HULLABALOO IN THE GUAVA ORCHARD is the whimsical story of a young man who escapes from the comical confines of life in the sleepy, R. K. Narayan-inspired North Indian town, or city, of Shahkot for the no less comical freedom of life in a guava tree. Once there, the previously timid Sampath finds himself at the center of an adoring crowd of pilgrims who mistake his knowledge of their private affairs (gleaned from reading their mail during his previous life as a lowly postal clerk) for spiritual enlightenment. At first filled with shame, his officious father soon realizes just how profitable his son’s supposed spirituality can be. His mother, meanwhile, finds in the orchard relief from traditional Indian family life and middle-class respectability by devoting herself to creating increasingly exotic curries. All goes well until the local monkeys start to drink. Plans to rid the orchard of their unwanted hullabaloo multiply and eventually go completely awry, but not before Sampath is released from the endless cycle of demands. Transformed into a guava, he is last seen being carried towards the sacred Himalayas by the hungry monkeys.
HULLABALOO IN THE GUAVA ORCHARD is a lighthearted work told in the faux-naive style of the literary folktale. This story, by the daughter of novelist Anita Desai, works best when the pacing is as fast as the author’s touch is light, as it surely is in the final thirty or so pages. When it drags, stylistic tics become annoyingly apparent, the narrative too slender to support even a novel this short, and this talented author’s indebtedness to other writers, from Narayan and Salman Rushdie to Italo Calvino, Jerzy Kosinski and Gabriel Garcia Marquez the sign not of postmodern play but of youthful derivativeness.
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