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Saraswati Park Paperback – 3 Mar 2011

4.4 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 300 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate; UK ed. edition (3 Mar. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007360789
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007360789
  • Product Dimensions: 19.3 x 12.7 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 210,350 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description

Review

Winner of the Desmond Elliott Prize
Winner of the Betty Trask Prize
Shortlisted for the Ondaatje Award
Shortlisted for the Hindu Best Fiction Award
Shortlisted for a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize

'Joseph contrasts the inner and outer lives of her characters, and the uneasy friction between new and old cultures, with all the wit and delicacy of a latter-day Mrs Gaskell' The Times

'Joseph writes beautifully about quietness and stillness…this is a quiet, restrained novel but a great deal is going on beneath the surface' Sunday Times

'Anjali Joseph's debut novel is replete with evocative images of Bombay…but the book's greatest strength lies in its delicate portrayal of a young man's desperation for intimate connection, and a couple's acceptance of a marriage that has failed' Financial Times

‘An elegantly realised portrait of unrequited love, frustrated aspirations and the unspoken compromises of marriage and family. Joseph neatly weaves in elements of the rapid social change occurring in the ever-expanding city but her principal concern is the more complex process of personal change and development and its bittersweet effects: the nerves, hang-ups and pains of youth and the regrets, pleasures and fulfilment of old age’ Observer

‘How true to life it seems – the background of disconsolate rains and chattering mynah birds entirely Bombay, the preoccupations universal … a generous book where absolutes are neither sought nor found.’ Guardian

‘The frustrations of middle-class family life are the focus of Bombay-set Saraswati Park … each character quickly feels like a familiar face, making this like The Corrections, but set in India…a treat’ ELLE

'An unhurried, quietly heartbreaking study of a lower middle-class Bombay family's disintegration and renewal…Joseph's skill is finding the poetry inside modest dreams, small tragedies and disappointments’ Metro

‘A beautiful novel that personifies the new India from the inside out’ Literary Review

From the Author

• Anjali, how would you sum up Saraswati Park in one line?
Saraswati Park is a Bombay novel of misplaced dreams, recovered love, and quiet moments of beauty amid a vibrant city.

Saraswati Park is set in Bombay. How much was it directly inspired by your life in the city, and do you feel that the novel could ever have been set anywhere else?
The novel was very much inspired by living in Bombay as a young child and later working there as a journalist. I wanted to write about the Bombay of the streets in the Fort, old trees, raucous birdsong, quizzical passersby, the life of neighbours, taking the train to work, and quiet suburban lanes. And books and day dreaming. It isn’t the Bombay of Hindi cinema or of some novels, but it’s the one I knew. Bombay still has some properties of a city at the turn of the 20th century, so maybe it’s the kind of story you could imagine taking place in early 1900s Dublin, though of course the climate and landscape are very different.

• You have worked as a journalist and a teacher. What made you turn to writing a novel?
I’d been writing stories and fragments of stories pretty much since I could write at all; the only change was bringing the writing into the light.

You were recently named in a list of the top 20 authors under 40, alongside established writers like Zadie Smith and Booker-shortlisted Adam Foulds. How does that feel? Do you feel under more pressure for your next book?
It was a total surprise, but very nice that the people who compiled the list had liked Saraswati Park enough to include it even slightly before it was published. I think there's always pressure to write something as good as you can, that will precisely catch whichever images, feelings and inchoate thoughts are gestating at the time--but no more than usual because of the listing, luckily.

• What can readers look forward to next from you?
The novel I’m writing now is about a few characters in their twenties who live in Paris, London and Bombay; it explores how when you first live independently as an adult, you do things you never thought you would, experience things you couldn’t have imagined, and somewhere amid that, rediscover a sense of self behind your apparent personality.

• What do you enjoy reading?
At the moment I’m rereading Francoise Sagan’s La Chamade because I’m working on a translation of it. I have a bit of a passion for slim, elegant novels. But I like all kinds of things--Samuel Beckett, Dickens, Scott Fitzgerald, Bernard Malamud, Flaubert. I also have a great respect for and interest in frivolous subjects, especially when taken seriously. If I were in a dentist’s waiting room with a volume of Proust and a copy of ELLE I might not pick up the Proust first.

• What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Learn yoga, or anything else that requires patience.

• Tell us something unusual about yourself.
I’m pathologically indecisive and always order last in a restaurant because I fear I’ll want what someone else has chosen. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

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Set in a country ordinarily portrayed to the international community as incorrigibly mystic and equally primitive, "Saraswati Park" is a refined and remarkably poignant observation on the prosaic nature of middle-class India. Written with both ardent familiarity and detached appraisal, Anjali Joseph draws the reader into a quotidian Bombay existence with incredible intimacy and masterful transparency. While the story is one to which anyone sharing our basic human condition can relate, the tranquil clarity and fierce elegance of Joseph's narrative is truly stunning. "Saraswati Park" is a quietly addictive read, one of unmistakable grace that reveals a charming exegesis of triviality.
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Saraswati Park is a novel of dramas and energies that are entirely welcome and recognisable. Its story brings a cluster of urban Indian, domestic lives into the foreground, and Anjali Joseph creates an adeptly textured narrative space in which the feelings and experiences of husband and wife, friend and friend and lover and lover are carefully turned over and examined, and are thereby accorded great value. The tone and pace are handled superbly, and the measured coming and going of the sub plots, the ebbs and surges of each particular line of the story, swap over and swell or fade in a way that suggests Joseph has a very strong technical sense of narrative structure. This is all accomplished against a background of a monsoon drenched, bustling city, whose train guards and servants and newspaper sellers manage, thanks to Joseph's skill, to be always present as themselves.
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By Jo D'Arcy VINE VOICE on 1 Oct. 2011
Format: Paperback
Saraswati Park is a suburb of Bombay, a quiet one where life goes on. This is where the two main characters of this book, Mohan and his nephew Ashish live work and study respectively. Mohan is a letter writer someone who sits outside the GPO who will write letters, correspondence, fill in forms, cheques, telegrams for people who cannot. But this is a dying art and he is one of the remaining. This does not pay the bills; Mohan has another income for that but it does allow him to indulge in daydreams about writing, about reading second hand books and enjoying learning. Mohan likes books where someone has written notes in, which have wide margins so he can add to the story.

Ashish is the complete opposite of his uncle, reading has become his nemesis. Forced to retake his final year at college because of his lack of attendance, his parents having to move away felt it would be better if he lived with his uncle, Mohan and his wife. So Ashish spends his time at college, but you get the feeling this is secondary to his struggle to find his place in the world not just in this little suburb but further afield. The help of a tutor broadens his horizons and he becomes involved in something secretive and risky at times.

Joseph has written a beautiful novel about two male characters who are trying to struggle with life, Ashish's is the new life ahead, Mohan's is the life he has led and what is remaining. Mohan's wife, Lakshmi is to me a mere secondary character, and one I felt a lot for, she is greatly unappreciated she exists solely on being domesticated and her love of TV soap operas. Lakshmi does know there is a world outside of this suburb and suddenly in rather sadder circumstances she gets away for a period.
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Saraswati Park is a beautifully written first novel. The Light and smells and birds of Bombay leap off the page and stay with the reader long after the book is put down. The First Chapter sets up the main character and his motivations and also the circumstances for the rest of the novel. What I particularly enjoyed was the path Ashish takes through the novel. His experiences and the relationships he forges are interesting and appear very real, but without seeming cliched, mawkish or sentimental, which is testament to the originality and discipline of Joseph's writing style.
The plot moves along at a steady, some would say, Indian pace, that gathers momentum as the ending approaches. But the main motivation, I found, to finish the book, was that I was interested in the characters. They remain with you long after reading, just like Bombay does, although it would be fair to argue that in Saraswati park, Bombay is the main character.
Miss Joseph comes across as an established writer, and it is incredible to think this is her first novel. It is rare that a book lives up to the hype on the back, but I think Saraswati Park is expertly summed up by Amit Chaudhuri. It will be interesting to see what Miss Joseph produces next!
In summation, I would urge anyone who has been to Bombay, or India in general, to read Saraswati Park, as I'm sure they would be able to identify with the book, and it would remind them of the adventures they had, and probably compel them to return in the near future. Rickshaw anyone?
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Often I find the literature that comes out of India (or at least that which is published here in the UK) too rich for my tastes: the language ovely decorative / the characters too mystical/exoticized. I was absolutely delighted, then, to read Saraswati Park, the debut novel by Anjali Joseph, with its clean elegance and beautiful turn of phrase. I love the fact that it's written about middle-class, suburban Bombay - it's an India I didn't recognise, and I was thoroughly delighted to get to know.
The storyline about Asish and his gay lovers was immensely moving and even more so because of how subtley the author addresses the issue of homosexuallity: it's not a story about being gay in India, more that this character, with all his everyday desires and emotions, happens to be gay.
In fact, all the characters in this novel are attentively drawn: Lakshmi, in particular, appealed to me, for all her stewed muteness and passive aggression, and the oddly tender relationship she has with her husband Mohan. This is a beautiful book, acutely observed, and I shall remember the VT station - and the shadows of its birds - for a very long time.
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