Book Review: Ganges Boy by Archana Prasanna

16087604Title: Ganges Boy

Author: Archana Prasanna

Genre: Coming of Age, Drama, YA

Age Group: Young Adult / Adult

Rating: 3,5 stars

Review copy provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Ganges Boy tells a profound coming of age tale against the backdrop of the heart and soul of the fascinating city of Varanasi. Kabir, an orphaned adolescent born out of wedlock to a Hindu mother and a Muslim father, struggles to cope with the loss of his murdered mother while trying to navigate the harsh reality of street life. After years of working in a sari factory under an authoritative owner, and later as a boatman on the holy river Ganga, he is confronted with his unknown past when he meets his blind Grandfather for the first time. Kabir is taken away to politically charged Delhi and submerged in a foreign world of privilege and education. However, the initial exhilaration of the luxurious life soon fades away when he discovers a sinister side to his Grandfather. He is torn between choosing the free spirited life he once knew and the new life of opportunity. Kabir’s journey of self-identity is poignant and touching as he searches for his place in the world while also trying to understand it through religion, friendships, family, and passion.

Ganges Boy is set in India, where Muslim and Hindu people still live in a relatively unstable peace, and marriage between the two religions is strictly prohibited, where people are locked up in boxes based on their position in society, and factory work for longer than ten hours a day is no exception. I enjoyed reading this book because it brought me to territory I’d never bothered to explore before. Young adult books about India, or anywhere except Europa, Australia and the USA for that matter, are rare. I like getting to know other societies and their principles, and I learned a great deal from reading this book.

Main character Kabir has had a tough life so far. He’s spend many days in the factory with his mother, a Hindu woman who married a Muslim man. After Kabir’s father passed away, his mother and he became mostly shunned, because of their mixed-religion relationship, and Kabir being the product of it. One night his mother gets murdered, and Kabir scarcely escapes by fleeing into the Ganges river. He’s rescued by an unknown hero, and from then on, he’s left to fend for his own. He goes back to work at the factory his mother used to work at, but as he grows older he realizes he may be capable of doing more. He signs up as a boatwala, and earns a fair living. He falls in love with a girl, and he spends time with his best friend. All is great in the world, until Kabir’s grandfather shows up, ready to whisk him away from his life of poverty. But life in the city of New Dehli may be a lot more challenging than Kabir thought possible, and his grandfather lives in an entirely different world than he does. A world with bathtubs and shoes, and expensive law firms and politics.

I thought the story started out promising, but I never got the feeling I was inside Kabir’s head. It was like there was a giant barrier between me and him, because of the way the story was told, sprinting over certain events. I understand the need to talk about several years of Kabir’s life, from little kid to a grown up man, but I would’ve liked to see more of his feelings, especially at the beginning and when his Mom dies. We’re told how Kabir feels often enough – He feels exhausted, he feels sad, he feels… – but it’s never really shown. I only remember one scene where he burst out in tears in his hut after his Mom passed away, but that’s it. The same counts for all of the characters. When Kabir studies his friend, he notices ‘he looked anxious’. How? Does sweat drips down his face? Does he bite his lower lip? Dart his eyes from left to right? How does Kabir know his friend is anxious? I don’t want to hear that he is, I want to figure it out myself.

That basically sums up everything that was wrong with this book in a nutshell. It has a potentially strong story, an unique setting, and the author has a large vocabulary and she knows how to write well-flowing sentences. But the story lacks emotion. We get to hear everything second-handed, but we never experience it ourselves, as the reader. And that’s a shame, because the story would’ve been a lot more powerful if instead of being told everything, we could see for ourselves.

However, there’s a lot of good things about Ganges Boy as well. I liked the plot, the writing was decent (except for the problem mentioned above) and the story didn’t drag. I wouldn’t say it was fast-paced either, but it had a nice, steady pace all through out the book. I enjoyed it, and it was a pleasant read, but I wouldn’t reread it any time soon.

I would recommend Ganges Boy to fans of coming-of-age stories. This isn’t really YA, but I think it would appeal to readers from that age and upwards. If you ever wanted to read about foreign cultures, this is your chance as well. Without info-dumping, the author gives a lot of information about Hindu and Muslim cultures.

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