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"Kashmir is the face of a beloved that one sees in a dream and that fades away on awakening."
on 27 April 2010
(4.5 stars) From the opening pages of this kaleidoscopic debut novel, Canadian author Jaspreet Singh works his magic, setting the opening scene on a train from Delhi to Srinagar, in Kashmir. A born story-teller, gifted with the ability to describe the sights, sounds, and smells of his many Indian settings, Singh also creates, at the same time, lively characters and interconnected plot lines which span two generations. Singh explores the India/Pakistan conflict over Kashmir through the eyes of Kirpal (Kip) Singh, a chef who once worked for Lt. Gen. Ashwini Kumar, formerly chief of the Northern Command in Kashmir. Since a chef has a limited focus, Kip is able to convey all the tensions and conflicts of the area without getting bogged down in the logistical technicalities, and because he is an honorable person, he becomes the conscience of the novel.
Kip has been out of the army for fourteen years when, in 1987, he receives a letter from Lt. Gen. Kumar, who is now Governor of Kashmir. The general's daughter, a small child during the years when Kip worked for him, is now getting married, and the general wants Kip to be the chef for the wedding. Kip is disappointed with the contents of the letter, since has waited fourteen years for an apology from the general for a wrong committed years ago. Nevertheless, he would like to revisit Srinagar, hoping that the general will, at last, recognize that he was unjust to Kip in the past. Kip has a serious illness, and he also believes that if he does the wedding, the general may respond by helping him get necessary medical treatment.
Flashbacks of fifteen or more years, to the time of his army service, fill in the blanks in the narrative and show his relationship with Chef Kishen. When Chef Kichen makes a major strategic error by talking too much, he is sent to a remote outpost on the Siachen Glacier, north along the border with Pakistan, and Kip soon follows him. There among the officers, troops, and the general himself, Kip discovers how the army "works," the compromises people make, the dishonesties, and the lengths the army will go to gain information.
Canadian resident Jaspreet Singh, who grew up in Kashmir, endows his novel with the ring of authenticity, and his descriptions and stories within the various plot lines keep the reader involved on several levels at once. Though the plot lines involving love interests sometimes become overly romantic and even melodramatic, the novel does a fine job recreating the conflicts in an area of the world which may never find peace. The author keeps his plots relatively simple and writes with both sensitivity and clarity, and he gives the reader some credit by leaving him to draw some important conclusions on his own. This accomplished first novel has a broad reach, and the author does a remarkable job of holding together his plots and letting the reader know where he stands, without becoming a moralist or an apologist. Mary Whipple