Since I missed book club, I decided to blog my thoughts about the book. Spoilers follow.
This is one of the most depressing novels I've ever read. It seemed as though something bad would happen, and when you think it couldn't get much worse, something worse would happen, then something terrible, then something horrific... it just never stopped. I wasn't expecting a garden of roses, but this novel really wore me down.
For most of the novel, the characters are not likeable and I found myself with no sympathy for any of them. Frankly, I couldn't understand their motivations. Repeatedly Ishvar and Om seemed to allow themselves to go with the flow of injustice, rather than try any attempt to rally against it. Even near the end, when the Family Planning goondas were collecting them, they had the opportunity to attempt escape. Frustratingly, Ishvar decides to stay put because he hadn't done anything wrong. He seemed to learn nothing from his experiences in the labour camp. Dina spent the first 2/3 of the novel being a bitch. Maneck's situation with his parents angered me; people don't live forever, stop pseudo-fighting. He waited until it was too late to understand his father. Om and Maneck together were jackasses, stupid teenagers doing stupid things and being first-class perverts.
It's funny, I spent the majority of this novel saying about Ishvar and Om, "these people should just end things and put themselves out of their misery. Nothing good will ever happen to them." I was frustrated but kept reading because I wasn't sure what the end game was. When I got to it, I had to re-read the paragraph because I had skimmed it too quickly. What? Maneck jumped onto the train tracks? He's the one person who just started to plan a good future, and then he does this?! A repeat of what happened in the beginning, where the train was slowed due to a body on the tracks.
I enjoyed The Book of Negroes. Bad things happened, and even without the pat ending, I felt a sense of hope somewhere inside. I did not feel the same way about this book, especially not after Maneck jumped the tracks. Sure, Dina became more soft-hearted over time, still looking after the tailors years later. I just felt kind of blah at the end.
Ishvar might still have legs if he had gone to the dispensary to look after himself once Om was stable. Om might still have all his organs if Ishvar had just relented and let him choose his own wife. Ashraf Chacha might have lived longer if they had taken their chance to escape. Why in hell couldn't Om have written to Dina to explain at least a very small portion of what happened? So many times they left her hanging, and this time they had the opportunity to send her a simple letter (Ishvar hurt, can't come yet) and yet noooo, Om just doesn't know what to say and does nothing.
Although both this novel and the film Slumdog Millionaire are works of fiction, they are two accounts of the worst parts of India. If there is any truth to both, then it would lead one to believe that conditions have not improved much in the years between 1975 and 2008, and that would be a depressing thought.
I didn't hate the book, but it wasn't an enjoyable read. At least Maneck didn't turn into a tiger right before jumping off the platform. That being said, this book has stuck with me, even after finishing it over a week ago. There’s something to be said for that.