Ven Begamudré’s second novel deals with the conflicts that develop within an Indian family in the wake of their emigration to North America in the late 1960s. Told from the point of view of siblings Subha and Durga, the story follows their attempts to integrate into a culture still mired in racism and ignorance while simultaneously witnessing the gradual disintegration of their parents’ marriage.
Their father, a Ph.D in mathematics, toils in the accounts receivable department of a steel company while his wife works toward her own doctorate. He takes out his bitterness on his children, whom he continually undermines and belittles. Subha’s submissive personality makes him especially prone to his father’s attacks. Durga, the elder, assumes the protection of her brother as her sworn duty in light of their mother’s distracted indifference.
The parents eventually decide to separate, but the only pain the children feel results from the announcement that Durga will move to Canada with their mother while Subha will remain in the U.S. with his tormentor. The bond between the siblings is rent further when Subha misinterprets a bedroom moment between Durga and their father as an act of betrayal.
The rest of the book chronicles Durga’s adolescence in Vancouver, where she discovers a natural talent for soldiering at a local regiment. Subha, disillusioned and still in high school, pumps gas at a local station just as the oil crisis hits.
Begamudré has written an original novel with a poetic sensibility, which he punctuates with lively tales from Hindu mythology. The flaw here is in the portrayal of the father, whose supposed malevolence is not entirely borne out by the few petty incidents provided. To the reader he comes across as merely churlish. As a result, the novel’s tragic end feels more like a whimper than a wallop.