Set in Trinidad, Shiva Naipaul’s birthplace, Fireflies is a massive chronicle, in two parts, of the fortunes (good and bad) of Vimla Lutchman (nicknamed Baby). At first she is the rather passive wife of an undistinguished bus driver, but being the great-niece of the elder Mrs. Khoja, she is circumscribed by the impressive social and material background of the Khojas, one of the wealthiest, most powerful, and most important families in the region. Baby is powerless in that family, in which all veneration is paid to Govind Khoja and in which all domestic affairs are influenced by his six sisters. After her marriage to Ram Lutchman, Baby discovers another side to her life: a submission to Ram’s sordid bouts of violence, drunkenness, and unapproachable taciturnity. She grows fat, and her lust for commerce waxes. She remains devoted to her husband even when he has an affair with Doreen James, a purported anthropologist. Baby worries about her two sons, Romesh and Bhaskar, and occasionally seeks refuge with Gowra, a distant cousin.
Ram Lutchman develops fitful obsessions—with Doreen, gardening, swimming, photography—but these come and go. His life becomes a sequence of ridiculous failures. His wife stays with him, however, through all of his quirks of fortune, sometimes defending him with a ferocity as comically useless as it is poignantly loving. When Ram dies suddenly after a heart attack, her grief prompts her to collect some of his charred bones from the cremation site, but when she begins to suffer nightmares, she throws the bones into a river, and her nightmares stop.
The second part of the novel opens with the gradual disintegration of the Khoja clan, as a rebellious faction of sisters develops (headed by Urmila-Shantee, and Badwatee) against Govind. This conflict is part of the important subplot that fuels Baby’s...
(The entire section is 761 words.)