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Home / Books / A dark coming-of-age tale: Book review of Hirsh Sawhney’s South Haven

A dark coming-of-age tale: Book review of Hirsh Sawhney’s South Haven

Hirsh Sawhney’s story of an Indian immigrant family devastated by the death of the mother is a tough yet compelling read.

books Updated: May 09, 2017 11:32 IST
Pradhuman Sodha
Pradhuman Sodha
New Delhi

To read a story of an Indian family that had achieved the American dream, settled down in USA, can be insightful, and could even inspire and encourage people with similar goals. But more often than not the tales of Indian expatriates or their descendants’ fail to capture the imagination of Indian readers, who are often the prime target audience of this genre.

The reasons are numerous. One of them could be that readers find that the American dream is not all that it’s cracked up to be. This sense of disappointment is carried through the book by all characters, it seems. It is one way the writer brings out the darkness and tragedy of circumstances that shapes the childhood of the protagonist Siddharth.

The events of the book starts with the children losing their mother, the man losing his wife and the house losing its woman. Unlike most novels, things might not change for the better as many readers might expect. The climax, however, doesn’t lose steam and the reader will feel quite satisfied at the end.

Hirsh Sawhney has written for many Indian and international dailies and magazines and before writing his first novel he edited an anthology called Delhi Noir. South Haven is his further exploration of the “noir”. Siddharth, after losing his mother at the age of ten, witnesses his father’s fall into a deep depression. The mother who kept her elder son Arjun and husband Mohan Lal from bickering all the time is not there anymore to do so. Things take a turn for the worse when Arjun goes off to college and the barely teenaged Sid is left behind with the alcoholic widower.

Teenage is brutal and it doesn’t differentiate. And it is at this juncture most people have to decide what kind of people they want to be. Coming from a broken house, with hardly any male role-models to look up to, Siddharth gets sucked into a group of slightly older guys whose attractions to life are drugs, alcohol and porn.

The character’s struggle between the good and bad side of life makes for an interesting read. Sawhney’s first book is also a study of how the Indian diaspora looks at the politics of their homeland. Mohan Lal’s constant comparison of the US government and with their Indian counterparts is almost uncomfortable to read. Through the lengthy political conversations of the book, the writer gives a sense of how a life between two countries can be disorienting for the children of immigrants.

Another reason why Indian readers might dismiss the NRI’s take of their country is because of the faults pointed out by expatriate. Lack of cleanliness and abundance of corruption being chief among them. Indians battling with these problems on a daily basis refuse to take a foreigner’s word for it. And those who come to India from abroad refuse to see beyond the garbage and the dysfunction. In the book, while Mohan Lal loves India, his US born son Siddharth is disgusted by it, to an extent where he thinks it an improvement when his elder brother, Arjun breaks-up with his brown skinned girlfriend.

Connecticut – elsewhere projected as a green and pleasant place, perfect for family residence – is painted by Sawhney as a grey garden where laughter is hard to find. The writing of the book though quick and lucid can sometimes seem a little immature but then again the story’s progression is seen through the eyes of its teenage protagonist. This dark coming-of-age novel with its mix of plots about family, loss and home is a tough yet compelling read.

South Haven
By Hirsh Sawhney
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 293
Price: Rs 399

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