Thanks to Read for Review for the chance to review this book! The blurb gives very little away but I wanted to see what kind of adventures happened at this train station. And learning more about India, especially from an Indian author, sealed the deal!
Shambala Junction by Dipika Mukherjee
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Iris is visiting India from the U.S. for the first time with her fiancé, and not enjoying it. When she steps off the train for a water at Shambala Junction, little does she know that her life is about to undergo a radical change. Along the way, she finds real friendship, learns what counts and grows to love the country.
I’ve seen a lot of 4 and 5 star ratings for this book and I know my rating is quite different than others here so mine may seem out of place. I did share a lot of the things other reviewers enjoyed. The story itself was really good! I don’t want to give too much away because the blurb here is quite short but just to give you a little more to go on:
Iris is traveling with her fiance to India when she gets lost at a train station. A family takes her in and as she tries to find a way home, this family is facing problems of their own. There are a lot of different perspectives in this book, which I loved. While Iris is our main character, we also get to learn the individual stories of at least 6 (if I’m counting correctly) others and see how all of these fit together into the larger narrative.
Also I loved finding out that the author is a linguist as this is my major in university! It’s always surprising when something talks about linguistics, especially correctly, and there’s a brief mention of a linguist in this book. So it made a lot of sense when I found out the author herself is a linguist!
So now it’s time for what I didn’t like. I was expecting that a story set in India, written by an Indian author would escape the stereotypical representation that non-“own voices” stories tend to follow and unfortunately this was not the case. Beginning with Iris, our first introduction to India and its people is through her eyes and she consistently refers to the place in terms of it being backwards and dirty and how disgusted she is by her surroundings. As well, her breasts are referred to 3 times in the first three chapters (twice by herself!) which felt wholly unnecessary!
I felt really uncomfortable with how the people in this story were portrayed and it didn’t end with Indian representation. There was also a Japanese character and while we heard from her perspective at first, the second half of the book only ever saw her through the eyes of another main character. The worst part is that this character would only refer to her beauty in terms of her likeness to a “porcelain doll” and her wide eyes that make her resemble anime. Not good.
While the Japanese representation was problematic throughout, the stereotypes of Indian people did feel like they were tamed as we progressed through the book. This seemed to be tied to the growth of the characters as they came to develop an appreciation for where they were. However I wish this representation didn’t depend on the character’s personal journeys. Since we’re seeing only through their eyes, we never get the chance to see these characters for ourselves without the biased opinions tainting our view.
Representation was not up to par with the story and I wish the first half of the book matched the second in its characterization. The themes the book deals with, like the value of women and issues surrounding foreign adoption, were really well covered and discussed but I couldn’t get over how these characters were portrayed.
About the Author: Dipika Mukherjee is a writer and a sociolinguist. Her second novel, Shambala Junction, won the Virginia Prize for Fiction (Aurora Metro, 2016). Her debut novel, Thunder Demons (Gyaana, 2011), was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize and republished as Ode to Broken Things (Repeater, 2016). Her short story collections include Rules of Desire (Fixi, Malaysia, 2015) and edited collections include Champion Fellas (Word Works, 2016), Silverfish New Writing 6 (Silverfish, 2006) and The Merlion and Hibiscus (Penguin, 2002). She has two poetry collections: “The Third Glass of Wine” (Writer’s Workshop, 2015), and The Palimpsest of Exile, (Rubicon Press, 2009).
Her academic interests include Language Shift in Diasporic Communities, and especially women in the Indian diaspora. Her co-edited book, Language Shifts Among Malaysian Minorities as Effects Of National Language Planning: Speaking in Many Tongues was published by Amsterdam University Press in 2011.
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review