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Susan Abraham is a Malaysian-Indian writer & traveler, currently in Dublin, Republic of Ireland. Her first book of alternative poetry/prose, "Call the Ships of Dar-es-Salaam" was published by YouWritePublishing in England last Christmas (2010). The paperback is available on all the international Amazon locations, also the Book Depository UK which offers free delivery worldwide, at the majority of online booksellers worldwide (just Google for a quick showing) and also through the Customer Service Desks at any good bookstore in England and Ireland. Stocked at the Books Upstairs bookshop in College Green across the street from Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland.

Calcutta Summer Shines in ‘The Distance’---A review by author Susan Abraham

Thus, it was with the discovery of this happy philosophy, that I plunged into American immigrant/Calcutta novelist, Saborna Roychowdhury‘s impressive and sometimes heartbreaking, novel, in The Distance. Its Bengali protagonist, Mini grows into womanhood while her story is being narrated with splendid brisk clarity by Roychowdhury. The novelist in question, is eager to shroud her invention’s youthful, virginal character with the darker landscapes of college-bound social revolutions and precarious relationship adventures before leading the naive Mini on to a subdued immigrant assimilation in Vancouver, Canada.

The pursuit of such a monumental transatlantic crossing, especially in the cause of leaving a seemingly careless first love for a new husband bottled up with ambitious manners, tends to be masked as a bed of roses, by agreeable in-laws and thankful mothers. Here are female elders who know of no other way out for their daughters. Naturally, the two contrasting cultures offer Mini an uncomfortable juxtaposition for harmony and even more sinister a contemplation…the threat of never being able to adjust altogether.

Thus, it was with the discovery of this happy philosophy, that I plunged into American immigrant/Calcutta novelist, Saborna Roychowdhury‘s impressive and sometimes heartbreaking, novel, in The Distance. Its Bengali protagonist, Mini grows into womanhood while her story is being narrated with splendid brisk clarity by Roychowdhury. The novelist in question, is eager to shroud her invention’s youthful, virginal character with the darker landscapes of college-bound social revolutions and precarious relationship adventures before leading the naive Mini on to a subdued immigrant assimilation in Vancouver, Canada.

The pursuit of such a monumental transatlantic crossing, especially in the cause of leaving a seemingly careless first love for a new husband bottled up with ambitious manners, tends to be masked as a bed of roses, by agreeable in-laws and thankful mothers. Here are female elders who know of no other way out for their daughters. Naturally, the two contrasting cultures offer Mini an uncomfortable juxtaposition for harmony and even more sinister a contemplation…the threat of never being able to adjust altogether.....................................................................................

However, the best part of Roychowdhury’s work was yet to come and the fervour would soon rise as Roychowdhury sharpened both her pen and imagination for unexpected conflicts. The mood of anticipation hurries with the racing plot as it swerves about the closing pages for some extremely memorable drama. Characters hurtle along the winding roads that end up on even stranger crossroads. At the end of the book, no individual may stay the same. Not the sad mother. Not the memory of a long-lost grandmother. Not the rigidity of Mini’s stubborn father, who through his bull-headed ways, costs his family the loss of personal belongings and a treasured heritage. And what of the husband and the lover both stranded in alien cultures and so create a confused identity for Mini. I am instantly aware of a powerful love story, fashioned very much after Rosie Thomas’s 1986 classic in The White Dove.

I suspect Saborna Roychowdhury to be a really good writer from her lucid introductory passages of modern Calcutta life in working class households, where everyday scenes like a long film reel, are described with sophisticated clarity. Roychowdury is an excellent storyteller…not at all a writer that fringes on the pensive or thoughtful but displaying instead, a splendid ease of alacrity. She is quick on the mark and doesn’t give drama a breather till the deed is done. Her stories, especially of an Indian setting grabs the reader with intensity, forcing attention on painful subjects like unfair politics, corruption, thievery and works of gangsters. The novelist is angry at the thought that such things exist in her traditionalist society, yet she is far from self-indulgent in any way. She is content always to be the ghost to her book, or the onlooker waving an invisible pen.

Roychowdhury also possesses an unusual talent – I don’t always see this in novels – where she makes good use of every opportunity…manvouring even the tiniest fictional scene to reflect, something of the real, useful or necessary current affair in Calcutta society and then too, capturing wherever the chance arises.. the disturbing feelings of an emigrant who may suddenly find herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Thus, in The Distance, the reader is unlikely to find a snippet, episode or scene, out of place.

As a by the way remark, the proof-reading services are definitely wanting towards the closing chapters. However, such a splendid story – and it’s been a long time since I read a memorable work when I consider new titles, that the author is instantly forgiven. It is the power of the story that will grip you…and the tender moments of main characters that stay in the head and heart long afterwards.

I was finally moved to tears…no different than if I had read a book in print. This, considering that Saborna Roychowdhury is not a sentimental writer in the least. There is no passionate torrent of sonnets, no gushing Valentine displays, no emotional outpouring, no mawkishness. The Distance does not command a saccharine flavour.

I would recommend The Distance by Saborna Roychowdhury for any reader interested in world literature, the cultural working classes or the deeper layers of Calcutta life, that go beyond the superficial. The Distance would be well settled with a Western audience and had it been published in the West, would have commanded a wider readership – I am very sure of this – rather than being rooted to a homeground where, in that famous saying, ‘A prophet is never recognised in his own country,’ the story may have ended up reaching an audience who already take their environment for granted…or where situations appear jaded. Whereas anyone in the West would most likely pounce on this novel with an interested imagination and fresh eyes, ready to be educated and informed.