Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay

Title - The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay
Author - Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi
Genre - Fiction
My rating - Between 3.5 and 4 Stars, I guess
Audience - Definitely not for young adults. A lot of sexual references, descriptions and language that's almost cringe-worthy at times.


When photographer Karan Seth comes to Bombay intent on immortalizing a city charged by celebrity and sensation, he is instantly drawn in by its allure and cruelty. Along the way, he discovers unlikely allies: Samar , an eccentric pianist; Zaira, the reclusive queen of Bollywood; and Rhea, a married woman who seduces Karan into a tender but twisted affair. But when an unexpected tragedy strikes, the four lives are irreparably torn apart. Flung into a Fitzgeraldian world of sex, crime and collusion, Karan learns that what the heart sees the mind’s eye may never behold. This razor sharp chronicle of four friends caught in modern India ’s tidal wave of uneven prosperity and political failure is also a profoundly moving meditation on love’s betrayal and the redemptive powers of friendship.


When I started the book, I had heard both strongly positive and strongly negative comments about the book so I knew my feelings for it could go either way. What I didn’t expect was to be torn down the middle! One glaring negative about the book is that the storyline is re-used. The main story of the book is based on a very notorious, highly publicized murder trial that happened in India in the late 1990s – the Jessica Lal murder case. Jessica Lal, a celebrity model, was shot dead in a bar by a well-connected Manu Sharma. A court trial ensued and he was acquitted due to lack of proper evidence while it was common knowledge that his politician father had a hand in reversal of testimonials of various witnesses. Eventually, the case was brought to the court again and this time, the judgement was overturned and Manu Sharma was found guilty.

 Siddharth Shanghvi’s book is based on this murder trial. In the book, however, there is no re-trial and the characters are left to deal with the injustice. Even though it was a known story, Siddharth’s writing was captivating enough to keep you glued to the book. He spends the first part of the book developing the 4 main characters and delving in to the intricacies of their interactions with each other. The remainder of the book follows the murder and how the incident changes their lives forever. I loved the fact that he gave the characters so much definition that they felt real. I started feeling like I knew the characters and I could almost predict their reactions to situations.

Throughout the book, I was torn between loving and hating the writing. At some parts, the writing comes across as pretentious and it feels like he’s trying too hard. Some unnecessary metaphors seem forced; the language seems crude; the constant references to all things sexual seem tiring; the writing, unpolished. And then suddenly, when you least expect it, you’re swept away by beautiful poetic writing and very insightful passages! I almost started enjoying the unpredictability of the writing. A point to The biggest character in the book, however, was not human. It was Bombay – a city as unpredictable as the author’s writing. Siddharth was raised “by” the city (as he’d like to say) and he writes as an insider. Not as someone watching the city, but as someone living the city. And that familiarity is endearing.

I would have to accept that, overall, I really enjoyed the book. I couldn’t put it down! I had mixed feelings throughout the book but I was sad to see the book end. I was sad to move on. And in my experience, that can only mean one thing – it was a good book!

 I also live tweeted as I read this book. My twitter handle is @ramyasbookshelf. Follow me as i live tweet books i read.