Goodreads blurb: As night falls in Delhi, a mother spins tales from her past for her sleeping daughter. Now grown up, her child is a puzzle with a million pieces, whom she hopes, through her words and her love, to somehow make whole again.
Meanwhile, a young man rides the last train from Rajiv Chowk Station and dreams of murder.
In another corner of the city, a newborn wrapped in a blood-red towel lies on the steps of an orphanage as his mother walks away.
There are twenty million bodies in this city, but the stories of this woman, man, and child–of a secret love that blossoms in the shadows of grief, of a corrosive guilt that taints the soul, and of a boy who maps his own destiny–weave in and out of the lives of those around them to form a dazzling kaleidoscope of a novel.
Beautiful, beguiling, and audacious, this is the story of a city and its people, of love and horror, of belonging and forgiveness: a powerful and unforgettable tale of modern India.
At the outset let me confess that I have never really been a big fan of poetry. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I am more of a ‘skimmer reader’ in that I tend to skim across lines and paragraphs really quickly and try to imbibe an entire paragraph or more in one go while poetry requires more careful reading, and at times reading even between the lines.
In case you are wondering why I am talking about poetry in a book review of a novel no less, that is because the only word that I get to describe She Will Build Him a City by Raj Kamal Jha is ‘poetic’. Struggle as much as I did to come up with an apt description for this book, poetic is the only word that keeps coming back to my mind time and again.
Using an abstract concept of time, space and physics even, the author carefully constructs a coherent plot of seemingly unrelated characters and events and weaves them into this wonderful tapestry of the modern Indian city. Although he sets it in Delhi, he could easily be referring to any other metro city with its class divides, income and caste diversity, the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ and all the trappings of rapid modernization that almost all our cities are seeing today with the accompanying pitfalls.
Using recurring themes such as love, loss, longing, lust, loneliness and imagination, the author brings alive the stories of at least four different protagonists from different parts of the city, which at the outset seem unrelated but end up being related to each other in an eerie fashion.
This book is as much a critique of the unplanned and unorganized growth of cities in modern India which exaggerate and exacerbate differences between people in many ways, as it is a poetic and lyrical observation of this phenomenon from the sidelines. The author cleverly puts across his points of view about various things using various leitmotifs from scenes that we witness in our everyday urban lives. This not only serves to enable the reader to relate better to these characters and their stories, but also ends up showing all of us a mirror to our daily lives as well.
And that, to me, is where the author wins us all over.
Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers in return for a honest and unbiased review.