Shoes Of The Dead
Rs 495 pp 274
Senior journalist Kota Neelima's political novel, Shoes of the Dead, features characters that readers of contemporary Indian English fiction don't encounter too often - rapacious money lenders, farmers burdened by debt, unscrupulous middle men and district collectors struggling to work with, and despite, the vested interests that dominate local bodies.
More familiar are the big city journalists, the well heeled academics and the smooth-talking politicians.
The novel's examination of how a particular farmer's suicide - his brother, who is determined to change the status quo in Mityala, a district in south central India, is one of the protagonists - sets off a chain of events that threatens to derail the career of an ambitious young politician, provides rich insights into how mofussil India, especially, works.
It's clear that years of reportage on farmer suicides - the author's note mentions that "stories of the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra are the soul of this book" - have informed this novel. If you have a quibble it is that some of the central characters seem too consumed by intellectual and political obsessions to be interested in the emotional and sexual impulses that propel life.
This occasionally makes the novel read like serious rural reportage transmogrified into fiction. Still, this is a book that gives readers a deeper understanding of the complexities at the heart of this nation.