Kiran Desai Criticism

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Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 March 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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SOURCE: A review of Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, in Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 1998, pp. 354-55.

[The following is a favorable review of Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard.]

This enchanting first novel [Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard], set in the Indian village of Shakhot, details the agreeable chaos that ensues from its underachieving protagonist's decision to abandon the workaday world and live in a tree.

That protagonist is Sampath Chawla, a child born during an insufferably hot summer (when "The bees flew drunk on nectar that had turned alcoholic") at the precise moment that a Red Cross plane delivering supplies to "famine camps" inadvertently showered its bounty on grateful Shakhot. This wry allusion to Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children is only one of numerous grace notes in a beguiling narrative that displays its character's eccentricities abundantly while never reducing them to caricatures. Sampath, at 20 having become a morose failure as a postal employee, attains widespread celebrity when his matter-of-fact revelations, delivered from the guava tree where he's taken residence, show a deep knowledge of his neighbors' secrets (he's gained it from secretly reading their mail), convincing all and sundry that "the Hermit of Shakhot" is "one of an unusual spiritual nature, his childlike ways being coupled with unfathomable wisdom." Things grow more complicated when a passel of "cinema monkeys" (so named for their harassment of female moviegoers) join Sampath in his tree, the Atheist Society arranges surveillance of his "activity," and a research scientist, a retired Brigadier, a police superintendent, and other suspicious citizens lock horns with a hastily assembled Monkey Protection Society. Desai's affectionate scrutiny of her maladroit protagonist is further sweetened, as it were, by deft comic portraits of Sampath's family, including most memorably his food-fixated mother Kulfi and his desperate father, a "practical" martinet who laments: "What good is it to be the head of a family when you had a son who ran and sat in a tree?"

Kiran Desai is the daughter of highly praised novelist Anita Desai. It's a pleasure to report that this particular fruit of a distinguished literary lineage, having fallen rather far from the tree, is producing bountiful and delicious results.

Publishers Weekly (review date 23 March 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, in Publishers Weekly, March 23, 1998, p. 77.

[In the following review, the critic offers a largely laudatory assessment of Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard.]

Escaping the pressures of a family urging him to become somebody, a young man, fired from his postal-clerk job, climbs up a guava tree, stays there, shouts down platitudes to well-wishers and is proclaimed a guru—a situation his father eagerly exploits for its money-making potential. That's the gist of the simple plot in [Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard ,] Desai's vibrant, delightful debut novel, which soars above its overworn premise (a staple of Indian literature) largely because the author, 26-year-old daughter of novelist Anita Desai, is a masterful satirist of human foibles, vanities and self-delusions. Ensconced in his orchard bower, Sampath Chawla—who's not a charlatan, just a muddle-headed kid seeking a clearer perspective on life—has a welter of problems. His eccentric mother, obsessed with cooking porcupines and mongoose, seems half-mad; his headstrong sister Pinky, determined to elope with an ice-cream vendor, bites a spy from the Atheist Society who's trying to expose Sampath as a fraud; meanwhile, a horde of drunken monkeys call down the townspeople's wrath, threatening the serenity of Sampath's arboreal retreat. Although Desai doesn't fully exploit the comic possibilities inherent in these situations (the first third of the novel is terrific fun, but then it fizzles out), she is an impeccable stylist, full of deliriously amusing, irreverent observations on India's rampant religiosity, self-involved families, monumental inefficiencies, stiff...

(The entire section is 2,879 words.)