Ardashir Vakil’s first novel is set in and around Bombay, India, in the early 1970’s, the time and place of the author’s own childhood. The story begins at a movie theater where the boy, Cyrus Readymoney, talks about his love of movies, and describes foods served in the theater, the first of his many descriptions of meals and snacks.
There follows some description of Bombay and India in general, emphasizing the wide variety of languages, cultures, and religions in that country. Cyrus himself is Parsi, a religion based on Zoroastrianism, an ancient faith begun in Persia. He is rich by local standards, though his friends and acquaintances are of varying status.
A great deal of the story involves Cyrus’ experiments and fantasies involving masturbation and burgeoning sexual interest in older women. Chief among his interests is an initially mysterious woman called the Maharani, a member of the ancient aristocracy. He sleeps at her house, and meets her adopted daughter Meera, with whom he has sexual play.
Cyrus, while on a visit to the country with friends, after a hopefully temporary breakup of his parents, learns that his father has had a heart attack, and that his parents are in Chicago seeking treatment. Back in Bombay, he learns that his father has died. The novel ends with the mourning ceremonies and the boy’s reflections on death and religion.
BEACH BOY is an interesting comment upon life in India, a place with which few Westerners are really familiar. It is also a fascinating portrayal of the thoughts of a little boy, aged eight as the story begins. It is rather difficult to follow, however. There is a great deal of description of Indian foods probably unfamiliar to most Americans, and a confusing combination of languages. What might otherwise be an excellent story of boy growing up is marred by these confusions.