Ashwin Rao is a psychotherapist based in India who has lived in Canada in the past. He has spent nearly 20 years building his career in India following a breakup with his Canadian girlfriend and has never married. He decides to write a book about how the family members of the June 1985 Air India crash off the coast of Ireland have coped with their losses. He calls this book The Art of Losing. He is doing this as the trial for the bombers gets under way in Vancouver. He travels to Canada to conduct interviews.
Ashwin himself lost his sister, nephew and adored niece in the crash. He constantly worried about his ability to retain sufficient objectivity as he researches the book.
On the subjects he wants to interview is a Statistics professor called Venkat who lives and work in the fictitious town of Lohikarma in interior BC. Venkat lost his wife Sita and his adult son Sundar. He is a difficult and unlikeable man but he can count of the support of his faithful friends Seth and Lakshmi to help him through tough time. Because of this, Ashwin also communicates with them.
Seth and Lakshmi and their daughters feature prominently in the book because of their closeness to Venkat’s family and their own history of dealing with the loss of Sita and Sundar who they loved very much. At the end, they are quite shocked by what they learn about the death of Sita and Sundar.
The themes that are explores through the telling of the story includes:
- The impact of immigration and acculturation on Indian families
- Endogamous vs exogamous marriage
- The place of religion in life (Seth becomes the devotee of an Indian guru following the death of Sita and Sundar, in contrast to his wife’s more personal practice of meditation)
- The roles and obligations of mothers
- Altruism, generosity and selfishness
- The various ways of grieving
This is my second book from the 2014 Giller Prize shortlist. It is well written and the plot is well constructed but there are some things that I did not appreciate. In particular, some parts that talk about Indian history or politics sound a bit too much like a lecture. And none of the characters are dlikeable; they all have flaws that make them somewhat unsavory. Maybe it is meant to highlight that no one is perfect, that we somehow all have to make do with the imperfect people we are surrounded with in this imperfect life.
Viswanathan, Padma. The Ever After of Ashwin Rao. Random House, Toronto, 2014.
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