Anosh Irani Dahanu Road: A novel

ISBN 13: 9780385667005

Dahanu Road: A novel

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9780385667005: Dahanu Road: A novel
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India, 2000
The smell of mosquito repellent pervaded Zairos’ small room, but he was used to it. Each night his father, Aspi Irani, would come into the room, shut the door and windows, and spray the repellent with great flourish as only an artist would. His father was obsessed with mosquito repellents and owned every brand on the market, from Baygon to Killer. He treated his array of repellents with the kind of passion usually reserved for record collections.
Zairos scratched his thigh and realized that he had been bitten by a monster. A few mosquitoes lay on the ground, some flat on their backs, some sideways, giving the impression that the place had been bombed. But these mosquitoes were part of the everyday death toll in the coastal town of Dahanu. In Dahanu, old-timers high on snuff reminisced about their childhood days in Iran and spoke to themselves in Farsi and Dari; tribal fishermen drowned in the sea, possessing neither the strength nor the will to prevent their boats from capsizing; retired schoolteachers drank country liquor until their livers understood their plea and put them out of their misery: and the young women who worked in balloon factories became balloons themselves, puffed up, bloated with the air of disappointment.
The bed creaked as Zairos rose from it. He crossed to the porch door and swung it open. His room was on the first floor of his family’s home, Aspi Villa, and the branch of a coconut tree reached for him, as it did every morning. The higher branches caressed the red tiled roof, and their leaves always made Zairos think of large eyelashes, as though the tree and the tiled roof were lovers.
Zairos put on jeans and a blue T-shirt and went down the stairs to the living room. His father was seated at the table, cutting an apple, his belly protruding from underneath his white sudreh. The sacred vest had a red blotch, most probably ketchup, on the small pouch at the V that stored the good deeds of the wearer. Zairos smiled at how devout a Zoroastrian his father was—instead of good deeds shining through, there was a blaring ketchup stain.
Knife in hand, Aspi Irani was painfully systematic in the cutting of the apple, accurate in the size of each piece, and not once did he even look at the fruit. An unlit cigarette dangled from his mouth. He used to be a chain-smoker, but when Zairos was a year old, Aspi Irani had dozed off while smoking his last Capstan of the night, and in a stupor flicked his burning cigarette into Zairos’ cot, and the horror of the flames was enough to make him quit forever. Zairos was told this little detail when he was ten with the lightness of a fairy tale. “Thank God it happened,” said his father. “Otherwise I would be smoking till today.” Although he had given up smoking, Aspi Irani had been unable to stop holding a cigarette. That and constantly running his fingers through his salt and pepper hair.
As soon as Zairos was downstairs, Aspi Irani started singing. His songs were a strange concoction indeed, a blend of three languages, Hindi, English, and Gujarati. Zairos always compared his father’s songs to country liquor: Use anything you can find—orange peels, battery acid, even leather slippers. Then squeeze hard and let its juice make your head spin. This morning, Aspi Irani’s song included two main ingredients— tennis and his old Morris. The two rhymed, and as he sang, the cigarette fell out of his mouth. Then he stopped abruptly and said to Zairos, “I think your mother is having an affair.” He said this every other day, whenever Mithoo went to the bazaar.
Theirs was an odd pairing. Mithoo was calm and soft spoken, with a perpetual smile on her face. She spent her time looking after stray dogs and teaching English to just about any child who wanted to learn. As a result, books were strewn all over Aspi Villa, from Wren and Martin’s thick dossier on English grammar to books for five-year-olds such as The ABC of English. There were times when Aspi Irani would come home and find strange children in his living room, sitting at the dinner table with colouring pencils in their hand and chocolate milk on their lips. “Is this an orphanage?” he would ask his wife. “Can we please give them back, my dear?” Mithoo would pout and wink at her husband, and Aspi Irani would melt, but only for a bit. The moment it got dark outside, he would turn off the lights in the living room, bring out an old rubber skeleton, and shine a flashlight on it, thus ensuring that his wife’s students would be terrified of English for the rest of their lives.
Aspi Irani loved the idea of sabotage. He yearned for a situation to ruin, as long as there was no permanent damage. No matter where he went, be it marketplace or wedding hall, he was an imp straight from the underworld, full of guile and mischief. Of course, with his thick forearms and massive calves, he was too large to be an imp, but he had an imp’s demeanour, from the sleazy to the sublime. When he was in action, his eyebrows arched like a piece of Mughal architecture; it was the arch of knowing that came upon the countenance of only those who knew secrets, of men who found beauty in the orchestration of disaster.
And it was the arch of his eyebrow, he claimed, that had made Mithoo fall in love with him. Mithoo’s parents had died in a car accident when she was fourteen, and she had responded with a bout of silence that lasted four years, until the moment she met Aspi Irani at Café Military in Bombay. “I was so handsome that your mother just had to open her mouth and say something,” Aspi Irani told Zairos. But then one day at a party, while his father was telling this story for the hundredth time, Mithoo whispered to her son, “I did open my mouth, but only because I was in pain. Your father had worn pointy boots and he stepped on my toe and I howled. But he prefers his version.” In any case, they were married six months later. At eighteen, Mithoo was a radiant bride, and Aspi Irani, seven years her senior, continued wearing pointy boots.
In later years, the boots gave way to moccasins. Whenever Aspi Irani went abroad, he came back with five pairs of brown moccasins, “One for each year, until our next holiday in five years’ time.” At the moment, the moccasins were neatly tucked away in a corner of the living room, while his face was buried in The Times of India. “The rupee has hit an all-time low against the U.S. dollar,” he grumbled. “What a wonderful way to start the new millennium.”
Then he looked up at the silver-framed portrait of Zarathushtra on the wall. “You should become finance minister,” he said. “Only a miracle can save us.” But the prophet remained unmoved. In his soft and luxuriant beard, a burst of light around his head, palms facing upward, Zarathushtra seemed preoccupied with matters celestial; the plummeting rupee or a foray into Indian politics failed to rouse him.
Aspi Irani turned his affections to the apple he was cutting.
“This apple is raped,” he said, pointing to a tiny, almost invisible rotten patch.
The word rape was a staple in Aspi Irani’s vocabulary. If his wife did not make the scrambled eggs soft enough, he would say, “Mithoo, these eggs are raped.” If his back hurt from the long hours of shuttling by train between Dahanu and Bombay, he would say, “My back is raped.” Everything was raped. The trees were raped, the walls were raped, the curtains were raped, the shower was raped, the whiskey was raped, the wedding was raped, and finally, if some unfortunate soul made the mistake of asking Aspi Irani for a loan: “Do I look like I want to be raped?”
He offered his son a slice of apple, but Zairos shook his head.
The first thing Zairos did every morning was smoke. He did not smoke at home. At twenty-five he was old enough, so that was not the reason. It just felt awkward, blowing smoke in front of his parents; it took the joy out.
When Zairos was out of sight, he lit up.
The horn of a train echoed off the walls of the bungalow, the sound like a jazz trumpet. It was 8 a.m.—the Gujarat Express had just come in from Bombay, and even though the coconut, mango, and gulmohar trees around Aspi Villa provided it with much-needed privacy, the train station was, as Aspi Irani said, “only a hop, step, and jump away.”
“Dahanu Road” read the yellow sign on the station. At one point, that’s all that might have existed. A single road. But now coconut sellers in cream dhotis lined the platform, sickles in hand, a pyramid of coconuts in a cane basket by their side. Toddy booths offered salvation to the dry throats of passengers, the palm wine adding sweetness to a sour journey. Vegetable vendors squatted on the ground, cucumbers, brinjals, and cauliflowers sprinkled with water, ready to be cooked at home amidst the chitter-chatter of housewives. Just as fresh as the palm wine and vegetables were the newspapers in the A. H. Wheeler stall. Wafer crisp, the headlines were scoffed at by the drifters, rickshaw drivers, factory owners, and farmers who paraded up and down Dahanu station as though it were a holy ritual.
Soon Zairos would reach his grandfather’s bungalow, where he would have his morning tea. But first he had a cigarette to finish, and, more importantly, he had to pay homage to the fruit that had fed his family for three generations. He blew smoke towards the chickoo trees that his grandfather, Shapur Irani, had planted decades ago. It was Zairos’ way of greeting the trees. It was the smoke of affection; it was like dew, a first kiss, one he blew their way every single morning.
Sapota. Sapodill...

Revue de presse:

“Anosh Irani does for Iranis what Rohinton Mistry did for Parsis.  The Irani community comes alive for those who do not know it.”

"The soul-searching journey of three generations of Iranis is blended into a heart-warming story...The author portrays [an] unlikely yet compelling romance between a young Irani man and an even younger Warli woman with an exquisite touch.  The beauty and purity of their love lingers even when it is violently truncated...The stories of generations as well as of individuals unfold on a sweeping scale, intertwining and coming full circle.”

“... exquisitely plotted, researched and written ... a story of intertwined destinies and uncomfortable class divisions crafted in an unapologetic voice.”  
"Anosh Irani's latest offering is a saga of unrelenting tragedy and a tale well told."  

 “[Dahanu Road] goes beyond sepia-tinted nostalgia to depict the savage wrestling for power between landlords and Warli workers...the plot [is] taut and suspenseful...a chronicle of the eccentric members of one of the world’s most exclusive and quickly declining clubs – the Zoroastrian community...Alternately tragic and funny, Dahanu Road doesn’t lose sight of it all.” 
“... NOT-TO-BE-MISSED...”  
“...Dahanu Road is engagingly written and Irani creates a lovable cast of characters.”
"Author Anosh Irani provides us with a unique blend of fact and fiction, interspersing village life with realities of Irani history.  A heart-wrenching chronicle of love and loss,  Dahanu Road is one man's search for truth in a sea of deception."  
"After a long time, an unputdownable book.  A fascinating insight into Dahanu's Irani and Warli communities, written with warmth, honesty, and a great deal of humour by a skilled storyteller."
—SOONI TARAPOREVALA, Oscar nominated screenwriter of Salaam Bombay, Mississippi Masala, and The Namesake
"Anosh Irani moves back and forth through the generations skillfully. His writing is visual and intense, and he creates his flawed characters with humour and compassion as they struggle with changing times and cultural mores, while trying to survive the ghosts of the past. Irani gives us a fascinating and exotic story that takes place within a little known historical context of Iran/Indian history." 

“Anosh Irani has a talent for peeling back layers of history and class in brilliant tales that are wittily folkloric, devastatingly political, and flamboyantly mythological. He must come from a long line of storytellers, fire keepers and, I suspect, also magicians.”
—RAWI HAGE, author of De Niro's Game and Cockroach

“A beautiful novel, Dahanu Road is big with love and infused with the passion of Anosh Irani's gentle yet shrewd prose.”  
—DONNA MORRISSEY, author of What They Wanted and Kit's Law

“Anosh Irani’s third novel, Dahanu Road, offers a blend of personal family memories, historic truths and rich’s proof positive that there’s another superior talent from Southeast Asia living here. In writing about distant worlds he shows us the exotic Other, while at the same time enacting on foreign stages the moral challenges we all face.”

“Like Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Dahanu Road, by Anosh Irani, is a story of forbidden love. Irani writes evocatively in a tale that has humour and texture as well as pathos.”

“Irani weaves an intricate web of personal and political relationships... With characters as rooted in the earth as the trees of the orchard, Dahanu Road springs to life. The fruits of Irani's labours will surely win him the acclaim he's enjoyed for his past work.”

“Irani keeps the intricate story moving . . . as grandfather and grandson struggle with the behaviours expected of their class. . . . A fascinating look at what can and can’t be controlled despite the best of intentions.”

“Simply told and nicely paced. Readers who have never set foot in India will get a feel for the country.”

Dahanu Road is the sort of novel book clubs will be drawn to like moths to a porch light for its exotic setting and the love story at its heart. . . . It’s an intriguing place Irani shows us, a place where old struggles yield beauty and love, as well as death and pain.”

“Irani’s writing seems to capture the heat of an Indian summer.  As he delivers a tragic love story, he also writes about peoples unfamiliar to most Canadians, telling of class differences and connection to the land.  Anosh Irani is one of the best young writers in Canada.”

Dahanu Road has much in common with Rohinton Mistry’s Giller-Prize winning A Fine Balance...Irani unravels convoluted history and class division to lay bare a grand narrative....The pages are saturated with rich detail.  The smells, vistas, religious rituals, and rhythms of nature on the road are key to the narrative’s power.” 

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Anosh Irani
Verlag: Anchor Canada (2011)
ISBN 10: 0385667000 ISBN 13: 9780385667005
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