China Room by Sunjeev Sahota
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Beautiful. One thread is the heart wrenching story set in 1929 Punjab of 15 yr old Mehar's misreading of who is her husband - how can this happen? she is one of three young wives to three brothers, all ruled over by the strict, often callous, family matriarch. The girls live together in a small room, and are veiled at all times, in absolute segregation. But Mehar is inquisitive and thinks she has worked it out. Intertwined with this is the modern storyline where a teenage recovering addict from the UK visits family in modern Punjab.
In what I think is one of the most honest author video interviews I have watched Sahota tells how a story from his own family gave rise to Mehar's, how structure is all important to him when writing. That structure, apparent to some extent when I read the novel, is one of the two threads circulating each other, spiralling closer and closer, with shorter and shorter chapters building reader tension as he explores social and pyschological imprisonment and escape. Personally, I found Mehar's story by far the strongest, but at the same time the reflections of it in the modern line cleverly bring out more than the sum of the parts.
This is his only third novel, he is now an Assistant Prof teaching Creative Writing at Durham Univ in England. I read his second [book:The Year of the Runaways|42200524] which I thought was marvellous - see my review . It is clear that Sahota can write both men and women characters, in stories which totally engage the reader. Now I really must go and read his first [book:Ours Are the Streets|9826870].