Anosh Irani's The Song of Kahunsha

This weekend's reading was Anosh Irani's second novel, The Song of Kahunsha, published in the US by Milkweed Editions.



It was perhaps not the best choice of reading for these dreary, rainy days. The novel narrative is in the third person, limited perspective of the main character, a ten-year-old orphan boy named Chamdi. The novel takes place around the time of riots in Bombay in January 1993, when Muslims and Hindus attacked each other in the name of religion. I'm not generally fond of books that take on the "innocent" perspective of a child in trying to make sense of horrific violence. Still, this novel did it without too much drippy, sugary, maudlin sentimentality, at least in my reading. The main character starts off as an orphan in the city, but he has never left the building and courtyard of the orphanage until an important piece of news sets him off into the wide world of the city in search of his destiny. The narrative sticks faithfully to Chamdi's perspective and voice (even as it is in the third person), and the moments of beauty are when Chamdi imagines his Bombay, which he names "Kahunsha," as a world of happiness, free of any violence, hatred, deformity, or ugliness. We're meant to see Chamdi as an idealist, of course, but what I liked best about his character wasn't his attempts to be a good person despite the awfulness of the world around him, but in his quirky way of seeing things. In particular, he has a fascination with color as an indication of what the world is, and as he contemplates bougainvilleas, I wish I had such a sensory connection with the world.
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