I read it in a few sittings. Even though it’s a classical, descriptive love story, I felt for the main characters and wanted to know about his final resolution, so it was a page turner from that sense. Jay; a vulnerable sensitive young man, feels rootless even though he’s from a wealthy established South African family- and in an attempt to find his roots and connect with his Indianness, comes to India. Here he meets some interesting characters for example the very quintessentially Indian, Mr Das with his cryptic statements and ancient wisdom. Mr Das helps Jay in his quest to meet Ananya, the beautiful Odissi dancer. He falls in love with her poster itself; then gets appointed as the dancers' photographer. When he photographs her, it is as if he sees her the way no one else does. While Jay is overcome by his love, Ananya herself seems to have a very practical approach, and her coolness and unapproachability is like a denial to Jay. While he understands her soul, his upbringing so different from the traditional Indian way, perhaps doesn’t let him see the constraints she lives with.
The scene shifts to South Africa, where we see Jay a different form, he’s still a photographer but of war and violence. He has married and got divorced, still burning in his love for Ananya. I loved most of the characters, Jay’s light-hearted parents,
so bewildered about their sons obsession, but eager to help him ‘get’ her when he hears of her coming to SA; the boss Hal with his special friendship and understanding; old, wise Malusi with his grandson; even the Nguni cow. I felt for Jay in his love, his anger, his rootlessness, and finally his clarity. At times I wondered if the object of his love was really deserving of such a devoted passionate love, but towards the end, we see more of the actual Ananya and ultimately the passion in her as well.
Donovan describes Odissi dance exquisitely; if you have grown up with something, you don’t often see the uniqueness in it. For me Odissi dance was about the dreaded dance classes in school, the dance teacher who rapped us on our knees when we didn’t bend them enough, and the performances which some of the more graceful girls did on the school stage. Through Jay’s eyes I saw the Chauka, Gita Abhinaya, Tribhnagi come to life, I could see why someone would want and learn more of about this form of dance.
In terms of novel structure, I liked the way it goes back and forth in Jay’s mind- the delicacy of his love and the harshness of his environment in sharp contrast. The use of the present tense gives a sense of immediacy in an otherwise descriptive novel. The dream sequences are poignant and evocative.
In today’s world where a lot of novels are about irony, wit and style, this one stands out in its sincerity of portraying a beautiful love story, with well researched background on dance.