As sixth-grader Kiran Sharma negotiates the minefield of relationships around him in Cincinnati in the early nineties, painfully aware that his house ‘smells of curry’, chafing at his father’s expectations of him, dreading school recess as much as the weekend potlucks with other Indian families, secretly playing with dolls and his mum’s makeup, the faultlines of childhood emerge afresh.
Kiran’s voice—a mess of loneliness, innocence, vanity, wonder, anger, hurting, self-consciousness, vindictiveness, slyness—engages, but is too literary at times to be that of a 12-year-old’s (“Like papier mache we can be fragile, but we can also be things of beauty”).
However, this Lammy-awarded debut novel manages to crack open the cliches: butter is “albino fudge”; desire is “the lift of my body when I see a pirouette or the ecstatic fact of a swishing sari...the beauty in locking your face in colourful makeup and the beauty in twirling around and puckering your lips...the things you do when no one is home, when you grab your ballet slippers and slap them on your feet and fly around the house....” Never startling you more though as when Kiran emerges from his “life of perpetual flinch” by mimicking—internalising—Krishna and you find the blue god was never so dazzlingly interpreted!
This novel is studded with many a queer realisation—not least those about sexuality, vengeance, parents, power and about the makeup/pretence by which we all get by. Insights you’ll relish Satyal for.