By Amita Trasi
The last book I reviewed, Lucky Boy, left you frustrated and just wanting that by the end, the right thing will prevail, the author will be in the right side of things. It worked out well in Lucky Boy. In TCOOS? Not so much. Not at all, actually. God damned pissed me off, I could not physically roll my eyes any more.
The book is about Mukta, a 10-year-old girl from a lower caste cult of temple prostitutes, where all girls are expected to become prostitutes as well when they come of age. But, in a twist of fate, she’s rescued by a man in Bombay, who has a daughter of about the same age, Tara. They slowly become friends, and then even closer, like sisters – until Mukta is kidnapped from Tara’s rom. 11 years later, Tara, who blames herself for what happened (as she should, little bitch) searches out for her kidnapped friend.
The writing is of decent standard, technically speaking. Kind of poetic, occasionally moving, and if not for my frustrations (which I WILL get to) it would be between a Decent and Good, probably a Decent at least. The plot is interesting enough? You know, if you find it interesting that the rich, city, Indian equivalent of a white saviour writes about rich-high-caste-brown saving poor-low-caste-brown is interesting.
Let’s just get to the frustrating bits since they are clearly overwhelming my thoughts and words. One: I’m not joking about the saviour trope. The dedicated, which I had to download the book AGAIN to find eurgh, reads, “To girls like Mukta – may you always find a friend to help you throuh the darkness”. And that’s a lot of the feel of the book. The author herself had a child live in her house when she was younger that she was never close to – like in the book – but she feels bad about that. She knows that you need people like Tara, coming back to seek redemption, to save children like Mukta. Because, of course, the Mukta’s of this world have never come together to help themselves. They just need the Tara’s of the world to return, save their children, break down criminal organisations, create amazing NGOs with just random men and women who’ve never been involved in the trades to give their opinion, wow wow. It was like if she went for EGP Sri Lanka she would’ve come away actually thinking she’d built the most useful school in all of Sri Lanka and thought, “Wow, I should send all my friends to build more of these in all the villages!”
Two: Tara’s a terrible character. She’s riddled with guilt for a truly disgusting thing she did – and yes, I get that teenagers do stupid things in the middle of grief and self-pity, but who the hell lets someone get kidnapped? Asks for that? It just feels like she’s such a bad person, she just doesn’t deserve redemption, but it’s been given to her from the start (because she comes from the U.S. to India to find her friend, right, sacrificing all the conveniences and ease of life for this low-caste person, what a generous, beautiful human being). There is no arc per se because, from the beginning, it’s set out that we should be grateful for her. But no??? And I can understand why Mukta idealises her and puts her on a pedestal (she was actually a child, and suffering from PTSD, and get a small hand of kindness in a terrible, harsh environment where Tara’s Mom hates her) and thinks she’s like a sister – even though she has to carry her bag from school, and accompany her everywhere, clean up after her, cook her breakfast for her, not allowed to study with her – I can see why Mukta does and I don’t blame her. I blame Tara. She sucks.
Three: I felt like there were quite a lot of plot holes. For a start, Tara comes from the U.S. in her early twenties and stays for months to search for Mukta. Where the hell is she getting the dough from? I get the dollars to rupees, your currency goes a long way, but not that long! And it’s not like she’s working and getting paid, she’s just working alongside an NGO in the hopes that they find Mukta.
Finally: if you really want to read this book (I don’t know, maybe you want to feel your blood burning in your veins, or your heart needs some rapid acceleration in the heat of anger) then go ahead, I won’t stop you. But if you actually want to read a book that has essentially the same plot but with better character development and not so much self-glorification and saviour-ing, I’d suggest reading Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. Essentially also the same, high-caste child friends with low-caste child. Screws up and betrays low-caste child. Leaves for America leaving child behind. Eventually finds out (spoiler) that they’re half-siblings. Comes back to the homeland to make it up. Except in The Kite Runner it’s not caste per se but more like class, and when he comes back to make it up, you actually feel that he realises he was completely in the wrong and that nothing will ever make up for what he did, and he grows up. Whereas Tara is a child throughout. Little shit.