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by Shilpa Agarwal Agarwal
Soho , April 2009
368 pages
ISBN: 156947558X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

"The girl moved like water itself, unthinking toward the darkening horizon." The opening line of HAUNTING BOMBAY is a good description of the book itself moving slowly and gracefully as if underwater, focusing on light and dark and emotion instead of thought.

Water is an important motif. It was birth water that led to a curse upon the child being born. Water that took Pinky's mother, who drowned before her daughter was old enough to remember her. And for reasons none of the children know, the bathroom to the bungalow is locked every night with a deadbolt high out of their reach.

Pinky, like Jane Eyre, is the impoverished, orphaned cousin living in a house that rejects her. Her status-conscious aunt is as anxious to make sure that her sons shun Pinky since she intends to climb the women's social network of Bombay. Although the sons do not outright persecute Pinky, the fact that Nimish adores the neighbor girl and not her is agonizing enough to the love-struck, pubescent girl.

Only her grandmother truly loves Pinky, taking her as a substitute for the daughter that drowned. But there was another drowning in the family, and the spirit of the victim is still there, looking for a way out...

HAUNTING BOMBAY is not for people who want a straightforward puzzle to solve. This is a story that slowly unfolds in allusion and emotion, with the reader being left to infer from hints as much as being told what is happening, the viewpoint shifting from character to character. Although a ghost story, it relies less on scares and gore than it does on pervasive feelings of oppression and gnawing secrets, as inescapable as the heat of India.

And India itself is a main character. The superstitions, the colors, the culture, the language, the traditions, the food, and the fables HAUNTING BOMBAY is rich with the atmosphere of village life in the late 1940s and Bombay in the mid-60s, with Partition and Independence a recent memory.

Reviewed by Linnea Dodson, April 2009

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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