A New World: A Novel

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9780375724800: A New World: A Novel

A year after his divorce, Jayojit Chatterjee, an economics professor in the American Midwest, travels to his native Calcutta with his young son, Bonny, to spend the summer holidays with his parents. Jayojit is no more accustomed to spending time alone with Bonny–who lives with his mother in California–than he is with the Admiral and his wife, whose daily rhythms have become so synchronized as to become completely foreign to their son. Together, the unlikely foursome struggles to pass the protracted hours of summer, each in his or her own way mourning Jayojit’s failed marriage. And as Jayojit walks the bustling streets of Calcutta, he finds himself not only caught between clashing memories of India and America, but also between different versions of his life, revisiting lost opportunity, realized potential, and lingering desire.
As he did in his acclaimed trilogy Freedom Song, Amit Chaudhuri lovingly captures life’s every detail on the page while infusing the quiet interactions of daily existence with depth and compassion.

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Review:

A relatively inconsequential plot provides the armature for Amit Chaudhuri's A New World: Jayojit Chatterjee, a recently divorced economics professor at an American college, returns home to Calcutta for a two-month holiday with his 7-year-old son, Bonny. Here he takes up residence in his parents' flat in a modern, characterless building. At once a son and a father, at home and displaced, he deals with the minutiae of each day and thinks about his failed marriage, his parents' health, his mother's cooking, his own weight gain, the neighbors, the weather, and the hired help.

Notable for the precision of his observations, Chaudhuri recounts small telling moments of daily life with a mannerliness that avoids looking squarely at the obvious dysfunction in the Chatterjee household, while at the same time obliquely illuminating the melancholy that pervades it. Once part of colonial India's military, Jayojit's now retired parents live lives of reduced circumstances--the rhythm of their days dictated by heat, a morning walk, a trip to the bank, the daily suspense over whether the maid will appear. Proud, affectionate, but inarticulate, they express their love through offers of food and financial news. Uncomplaining, Jayojit and Bonny endure the climate and ennui, and in a marginal, temporary way participate in a world that is no longer theirs. Chaudhuri's writing, like his characters, is admirable in its restraint, as in this passage in which he describes Jayojit's first morning in Calcutta:

Jayojit had woken up late, at eleven. He had had a bath, and then changed into a shirt and shorts. Wearing shorts exposed his large fair thighs and calves, covered with smooth strands of black hair. His mother seemed to notice nothing unusual about his clothes; parents accept that offspring who live abroad will appear to them in a slightly altered incarnation, and are even disappointed if they do not.
Thus formality and forbearance binds this family as much as love.

Hailed as a dazzling new talent in 1999 for Freedom Song, a collection of three novellas, Chaudhuri's remarkable accomplishment lies in the scope and complexity he paradoxically evokes in his exacting attention paid to mundane detail. --Victoria Jenkins

From the Publisher:

"Mr. Chaudhuri holds our attention with unobtrusive evocation of place, texture and humanity. . . . [He] is capable of producing that quicksilver compound of recognition and surprise, which is, of course, what so often distinguishes art from stage direction."
-- The Economist

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