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A Googly in the Compound
Boman Desai, author
The Sanjanas planned to enjoy the tiger cub and surrender the adult to the zoo, but no plan had been made for the adolescent. The family is breakfasting in the compound of their bungalow when the cub tastes blood from a cut on Sohrab Sanjana’s hand. Also in attendance are Daisy (Sohrab’s English wife, married when she was stranded by WWII in India); Rustom (Sohrab’s brother, back from the war in Burma); Dolly (their mother, afraid the rivalry between her sons may erupt into violence echoing the rivalry between two brothers she had married in succession); and Phiroze (Dolly’s second husband, younger brother of her first). A novel of love and war, A Googly in the Compound spans the years from 1910 to 1945, heading from rural Navsari to cosmopolitan Bombay to 1930s London to wartorn Burma and Mesopotamia.
Reviews
Desai’s (Trio) sweeping family drama charts the Sanjana clan’s loves and losses against the historical backdrop of India under British rule. When Dolly Dalal’s first husband Kavas dies tragically, she marries his younger brother Phiroze. Each of her two sons takes after his own father: Kavas’s son Sohrab is ambitious and ruthlessly practical, and Phiroze’s son Rustom is gentle and philosophical. Like their fathers, they are constantly at odds. When young Englishwoman Daisy Holiday, newly arrived in Bombay on the trail of a former lover, reaches out to the Sanjana family for help, both sons are taken with her, setting history up to repeat itself.

Desai unravels the complex relationships of the Sanjana family through lengthy flashbacks (throughout), all tied together in a single scene of a family breakfast that steadily builds toward the book’s climax. Spanning both decades and continents, the characters’ backstories are infused with evocative details of period and place, transporting readers to King George VI’s Jubilee in London, the brutal Burma campaign of the second world war, a steamer sailing from London to Bombay, and an India on the cusp of independence from Britain. While the book’s vivid historical and cultural exposition can occasionally pause the plot, Desai offers fascinating insight into the complicated realities of race, class and colonialism the characters face.

The story’s broad scope is balanced by its finely-tuned characters. Their motivations and struggles are well-defined and relatable, and readers will find their self-determination in the face of difficult circumstances inspiring. In particular, Dolly and Daisy, far from being hemmed in by vintage attitudes, are well-rounded, complex individuals whose dilemmas and choices will resonate with contemporary readers. Desai’s nuanced portrayal of marriage also proves appealing, with each couple’s relationship depicted with sharp but non-judgemental insight. This engrossing chronicle of a complicated family that builds to a stunner of a conclusion.

Takeaway: History lovers will appreciate how this sensitive Indian family saga puts a human face on epic events.

Great for fans of: Sunil Gangopadhyay’s Those Days, Ahmed Ali’s Twilight in Delhi.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A

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