Book Reviews

Review Published in HINDUSTAN TIMES

“A Slow Sort of Country”

By Cherian George
Viking 1993

“A Slow Sort of Country” begins slowly. But soon one realizes that the slow, back and forth motion is deceptive. And once through the middle, the story clips past in a fluid, smooth motion leaving one feeling that Cherian George’s first novel is one of the more readable books that have appeared in the great Indian uprising of fiction in recent years.

The story is simple and straightforward. A Syrian Christian family of Kerala returns home after twenty-five years in Malaysia. They have to plug in once again to their main family, their friends, society and country. They have to give up the isolated and comfortable existence of a foreign land and come to terms with problems at home. It is an ordeal which can easily take away the romance of homecoming and in the case of the Koshys, it certainly does. The head of the family, simply Mr. Koshys, is reduces from a “fairly robust, tennis playing sort of person” to a doddering vegetable who can only seek relief in the comfortable absurdity and farawayness of Zen. Mrs. Koshy, forced to take charge of the affairs of the family, prays for strength to face first of all her own brothers and sisters and then society. And the son, used as a clever ploy by the author, writes long letters to his friends back in Malaysia in which he romanticieses India and their own life, painting and repainting the picture of tigers, snakes, elephants and servants until he too must ultimately give up to the dreary truth.

Mr. George weaves it all together carefully and cleverly with an amazing and pleasing economy of language and a generous dash of humour. The exchanges are sharp and tangy but one wonders how all the characters are so equally witty, whether it is the maid or the hoodlum-made-big or Mrs. Koshy or the fulminating landlord. And one wishes that there weren’t so many brackets with English equivalents of Malayalam words and phrases. These tend to break the flow and perhaps a glossary may have worked better. That apart, there is nothing to stop one from sitting back and enjoying the pungent conversations.

But in this story of the Koshy family is a commentary on our life and times which is as sad as it is true. Family honour beginning to sound hollow without money; money in search of honour and class; theft and thuggery; tales of landlords and tenants; even an unsuccessful clerk made into a Godman by pot-smoking junkies. All this and the many ways that life meanders into a dreary existence.