Roychowdhury's debut is a story about India's growing pains told through the microcosm of a young woman struggling to find love and purpose. Mini is a college student who lives with her grandmother, parents and brother in a two-bedroom apartment in Calcutta. She becomes infatuated with Amitav, a social activist and student leader of the college Communist Party whose arrogant ambition lures Mini to adopt his rowdy lifestyle. She follows him into various unsafe situations until one confrontation turns deadly. Startled and scared she rejects his naiveté and he accuses her of being materialistic. This impasse motivates Mini to submit to an arranged marriage to Neel, an Indian student studying in Canada. Neel's status abroad provides Mini momentary worth and she moves to Canada. Feeling isolated and alone, Mini is repulsed by Vancouver's material abundance and increasingly annoyed by her husband's work ethic. Through Roychowdhury's rich detail and illuminating dialogue emerges a protagonist who is caught in a love triangle and the conflict between rigid traditions and western freedoms. The book also smoothly incorporates the countless facets of modern India, with an abundance of cultural references neatly packed in. (July)
Nostalgia, an idealized love and longing for the land that the immigrants leave behind, has been the concern of much diasporic writing. Diasporic fiction is marked by a constant movement and desire for a return that rarely actually happens. Myths are a natural result of diasporic experience. In displacement, humans draw succor from these myths about homeland.
When I picked up Houston based Indian American writer, Saborna Roychowdhury’s debut novel, The Distance, I had a feeling that it might turn out to be yet another story about immigrant nostalgia. To Roychowdhry’s credit, she refuses to grant nostalgia a special place. The protagonist Mini’s sense of disconnect in the west does not remain confined to a false sense of longing for the land she left behind. At the end of the novel, she literally returns to India.
The novel deals with distance first of all as a symbol. The people in Mini’s family are distant from each other while occupying the same apartment. It also engages with distance in its actual dimension, and this can be seen in Mini’s journey to Vancouver away from home in Calcutta. What drew me in is the way the novel explores distance in a double sense -- at once a desire to escape reality as well as the impossibility of escape....(Cont'd)
Saborna Roychowdhury addresses the perennial questions facing contemporary Indian women in her first novel, The Distance, and offers some surprising answers. Her protagonist, Mini, ponders duty and tradition versus personal ambition, arranged marriage versus a love match, and the allure of living in the West versus the familiarity of life in India. Roychowdhury offers a fresh take on these dilemmas while also underscoring the difficulty of finding any satisfactory resolution........................
The Distance offers no simple solutions to the social problems presented therein. Mini’s story demonstrates how stifling life may be for middle-class women in Calcutta. Although she and other women study for bachelor and master’s degrees, their education primarily serves as a tool for attracting a suitable husband, who will himself be responsible for supporting the family; it is heartbreaking to see one minor character, Radha, working in a Canadian laundry despite her master’s degree. The novel details many social problems in India – corrupt politicians, ineffective police, extreme poverty – but social action, in the form of Amitav’s speeches and marches, appear to result in danger and death for the reformers rather than any real societal change. Emigration to Western countries is rightly critiqued as a solution for a privileged few and no failsafe for personal happiness. The novel’s evocative title, broadly taken, reminds us of the space between the ideal world and grim reality............(Cont'd)
India has been a country in the midst of a dramatic transition for over a
half-century and that change has dramatically accelerated in the last
two decades. It has a continuous recorded history that goes back
thousands of years and this history makes for a great deal of cultural
inertia. This leads to a great deal of conflict and uncertainty, for
change that is of overall benefit to the country is usually to the
detriment of some of the people.
Mini is a young Indian woman that is getting a scholarly education,
has some resistance to the old ways, yet is strongly bound to her
traditional parents. She meets and becomes involved with a young student
radical named Amitav and she finds his passion irresistible. Against
her parent's wishes, Mini goes with Amitav to attend a protest where a
group of exploited people is attempting to rise up against a brutal
landlord. There is a death and Mini ends up back with her parents and
the bride of an arranged marriage. Yet, her time with Amitav has made a
permanent impression on Mini.
Her husband is studying for a Ph. D. in Vancouver, Canada and has
great job prospects in Canada, provided he does the things necessary to
succeed in Canadian society. Fortunately, there is a significant Indian
community in Vancouver, so there are other people that Mini can interact
with. Yet, she never feels assimilated into the society and her husband
Neel begins to suffer from the stress of a successful climbing of the
corporate ladder. Back in India, Mini's parents are being forcibly
evicted from the apartment where they have lived for decades, so Mini
and Neel go back to pay them an extended visit. Having been in Canada
for years, they are subject to some reverse culture shock when exposed
once again to the dirty bustle that is India.
Capitalism is often described as a system of creative destruction
and that is the fundamental theme of this book at several levels.
Changes in India lead to the destruction of buildings and lives are
heavily disrupted as the old is simply swept away in the pursuit of
greater wealth. Secondly, while Neel is successful in moving up the
corporate structure and making more money, he is slowly being destroyed
as well as he is changed into a corporate citizen. Mini is changed as
she tries to adapt, yet cannot break from her Indian roots and the
passion of people that fight for the poor and suffer to help them. The
traditional feudal ways of Indian society are also being swept aside as
the Indian economy adapts to the modern world. There is tragedy and no
dramatic success at the end, people just do the best they can in
situations that they have very little control over.
This book is an excellent summary of much of the change that is
taking place in India as it emerges as a strong economic power in the
modern world. While women will have empathy for Mini as she struggles
between her feelings for the man of passion for others versus the man of
economic stability, all can relate to the struggle against powerful
forces for change and many of the compromises that must be made to
succeed in the business world.
Closing the Distance Reviewed by Mohsin Maqbool Elahi
The Distance is Saborna Roychowdhury’s debut novel in which she deals with several serious issues, including the male-dominated society and the patriarchal family, politics on campus and outside of it, and love and arranged marriages...........It is the distance between dreams and realities; between a husband and wife; between arranged and love marriages; between India and the US and between cultural and family values, along with the distance between openly-declared and unrequited love....... Saborna’s laconic humour is delicious, her occasional political comments are shrewd, and her deft thumbnail character-sketches reveal a keen eye for the essential extraordinariness of ordinary folk.One more thing: at the end of Chapter 5, Saborna writes, ‘Looking for new adventures and thrills wasn’t an option for either of them.’ However, it can be safely said: Looking for new adventures and thrills through her second novel is definitely an option for book lovers.
Saborna Roychowdhury’s debut novel The Distance tells a story of a 21st century woman caught up in a series of cultural networks, starting with those of traditional Bengali society, through the political demands (discontents) of certain sections of the society, through diasporic experiences in Canada and finally back into the third world' motherland only to realize an agonized selfhood........What is new about the novel is Roychowdhury’s exceptionally reticent telling of a woman’s tale through a first person voice, which captivates readers and leads them through certain unexplored areas of our existence in postglobal West Bengal. In other words, she tells a complex story in very simple and homely manner, and readers need not know (postcolonial) theories to appreciate it.........Finally, it can be said that the author shows promise with her first novel and readers will be looking forward to the fulfillment of the promise in her next works.
The Distance" by Saborna Roychowdhury: Hit or Miss? Reviewed by Sanchari Sur
My rating: 3/5
An interesting coming of age story that deals with the inner turmoil of a girl/woman who has to choose between duty and desire. It could have been slated in the category of a classic clichéd tale of a South Asian woman caught in a love triangle. Except, it has more to it. It is also a tale a woman who chooses to go abroad via marriage to escape a stagnant life back in oppressive Calcutta, and to forget her activist no-future lover, Amitav, who drags her further into the heart of a struggle against the corrupt system..........Roychowdhury is a strong and gifted storyteller. She builds the story’s momentum, with the reader growing closer to Mini with every successive page. Mini is portrayed as an immature selfish girl at first who gradually learns to negotiate her identity as a wife, a lover, a daughter and finally, a woman. Roychowdhury is also able to portray the true picture of immigrants in a foreign land like Canada. Very artfully, she delves into their lives and weaves out their conditions and their dilemmas of assimilation. As we get further enmeshed into the intricate poetic tapestry, we also tend to overlook the bad points I pointed out earlier. I admit that they cause a grating sensation, but we are able to ignore it and move on in order to reach the final climax as soon as possible; a climax that is unexpected and in many ways leaves the reader questioning their own inner turmoil.
On the whole, Roychowdhury is a lyrical and graceful author, whose fluidity in narration keeps this book afloat. As a first novel, it’s an extraordinary attempt at telling a complex story of inner journey. I would say catch the book, and the author, because we can surely expect some great things from this one!
Roychowdhury amply succeeds in laying bare the ordinariness of Mini’s life in Calcutta: a two-roomed tiny apartment in Gariahat; a grandmother fastidiously holding onto tradition; a mother grudgingly bearing the vestiges of that tradition; and a father outwardly content with his middle-class existence. In a language that is bare and precise, Mini recounts her life: "We lived in a crowded two-bedroom apartment overlooking the busy Gariahat corner where five road arteries www.the-criterion.com The Criterion An International Journal in English ISSN 0976-8165 Vol. III. Issue. IV 4 December 2012 intersected: my parents, grandmother, younger brother and me. Outside our old apartment building, long lines of vendors sold food, jewelry, underwear, and books on their pushcarts." The vivid description of the apartment and the city demonstrates how the routine intimate spaces of the apartment and of the city can appear distant.
I recommend this novel for its simplistic narrative of the tale. As a reader I invested in the protagonist in the early pages of the novel. Roychowdhury has brilliantly focused on the narration which compels readers to invest into her novel.
www.the-criterion.com The Criterion An International Journal in English ISSN 0976-8165 Vol.
The Distance, Saborna Roychowdhury’s debut novel is a bookthe reader can easily identify with. Indians who have stayed home and long totravel abroad can identify with it, Immigrants to America from India canidentify with the cultural shock so deftly described in First Person by theauthor and above all, everyone can enjoy the descriptions of Calcutta and Vancouver and identify with the reality of campuspolitics.
Saborna Roychowdhury weaves a beguiling tale using simplelanguage. She makes the commonest character stand out with her descriptivepower. The main character Mini, is an educated woman caught between two disparateworlds: the one left behind in Indiaand the other life of relative luxury in Canada. One can empathize withfirst her bewilderment and then her plight and pain as she has to make a choicebetween two cultures and two men. In love with her classmate Amitav, she stillopts for an arranged marriage when her lover gets caught up with dangerousrevolutionary politics. Even her husband’s success in Vancouver does not take away the increasingdiscontent that perhaps makes her feel that her life is stagnant. The authorhauntingly describes Mini’s loneliness and then assimilation in a strange land.The reader is not surprised when Mini returns to India and meets Amitav again, althoughquite by chance.
This is a powerful tale of an educated middle-class Bengaligirl and the choices she makes in life. Saborna has beautifully presented theyearning and quiet desperation that make up Mini’s emotions in a foreign land.The Distance brings home to us the gap between dreams and reality. This is an effortlessly written first novel from Saborna setin a world of economic change. The author has a very individual, unique andstrong style of writing and every reader is bound to look forward to readingher next book.
Does distance always spawn myths? Do these myths merely feed on nostalgia? When I picked up Houston based Indian-American writer, Saborna Roychowdhury’s debut novel, The Distance, I had a sense of déjà vu – it might turn out to be yet another story about immigrant nostalgia. To Roychowdhury’s credit, her book refuses nostalgia a privileged place. The protagonist, Mini’s sense of un-belonging does not remain confined at the level of a false sense of longing for the land she left behind. The paradoxical notion of distance – at once a desire to escape reality as well as the impossibility of escape – makes this novel distinct from many others in the genre of diasporic fiction.................