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Fly Every Witch Way

It is unfair to judge a first novel by what it has not, only right to look at what it has. This one reveals enormous confidence, crafting skill and, above all, promise.

Fly Every Witch Way
Fly Every Witch Way
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+0553
Tokyo Cancelled
By Rana Dasgupta
HarperCollins Rs 395; Pages: 400
When I hear the word cuisine," says a character in Joyce Carol Oates’ American Appetites, "I reach for my revolver." I have the same feeling when I hear the word ‘Indianness’ used in connection with English writing in India. Thankfully, Rana Dasgupta, unlike many young Indian writers, deftly bypasses this idea in his first novel, Tokyo Cancelled. It begins (a splendidly gripping beginning) in an unspecified airport where a Tokyo-bound plane has landed due to a snowstorm in Tokyo. While most passengers find a place to stay for the night, 13 have to stay back in the airport. One of them decides to tell a story and the others follow.

Stories-within-a-novel is an often-used ploy, but for a first novel, it is a rather daring one, specially since the stories are the novel here, carrying the entire burden of it. Set in different parts of the world, they combine the real world with fantasy, futuristic technology with magic: a database of memories is created to be sold to a world in which memories are lost, a woman turns into a departmental store and humans sprout plants and flowers. An eclectic, interesting but uneven mix; if a couple of stories work, many sag under the weight of a laboured inventiveness. The basic flaw, however, is that the stories don’t connect: there is no central character or consciousness connecting them, nor do they link the anonymous narrators and listeners.

But it is unfair to judge a first novel by what it has not, only right to look at what it has. This one reveals enormous confidence, crafting skill and, above all, promise. One hopes that the writer will soon realise that magic realism is not unbridled imagination (the son of Robert De Niro and a Chinese laundress meets the daughter of Isabella Rosselini and Martin Scorcese!) but an absolute control over it. Understand too, that the global is not necessarily the universal. It would be a pity for young writers to put down the burden of ‘Indianness’ only to pick up the load of ‘globalness’.

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