10 November 2016

Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy

Summary from Goodreads:
Long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, a novel about violence, love, and religion in modern India

On a train bound for the seaside town of Jarmuli, known for its temples, three elderly women meet a young documentary filmmaker named Nomi, whose braided hair, tattoos, and foreign air set her apart. At a brief stop en route, the women witness a sudden assault on Nomi that leaves her stranded as the train pulls away.

Later in Jarmuli, among pilgrims, priests, and ashrams, the women disembark only to find that Nomi has managed to arrive on her own. What is someone like her, clearly not a worshipper, doing in this remote place? Over the next five days, the women live out their long-planned dream of a holiday together; their temple guide pursues a forbidden love; and Nomi is joined by a photographer to scout locations for a documentary. As their lives overlap and collide, Nomi's past comes into focus, and the serene surface of the town is punctured by violence and abuse as Jarmuli is revealed as a place with a long, dark history that transforms all who encounter it. A haunting, vibrant novel that was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize and the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature and short-listed for the Hindu Literary Prize, Anuradha Roy's Sleeping on Jupiter is a brilliantly told story of contemporary India from an internationally acclaimed writer.

Sleeping on Jupiter was a surprise galley I picked up from the lovely people at the Graywolf Press booth at BEA.  I'm not well-read in contemporary Indian or south Asian literature so I was eager to pick this up (I won't pass up a Booker long-listed novel).

Sleeping on Jupiter is a deeply spiritual yet very stark novel about six people in a temple town: three elderly women on a vacation/pilgrimage, a temple guide, a photographer, and a young woman using the guise of a location scouting trip to find the ashram where she lived as a child.  It was interesting that Roy chose to create Jarmuli; the town isn't a real place, but an amalgam of seaside towns full of religious pilgrims and tourists.  I was very taken with the writing style.  Roy was able to describe the town, Nomi's childhood, and the seaside with precision yet I didn't feel over-loaded with descriptions.  Utterly spellbinding and heartbreaking.

Trigger warning for several scenes of sexual violence and child abuse (Roy based these scenes on legal cases in India).

Dear FTC: I picked up a galley of this novel at BEA.

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