so the animal that primitive man most feared was the tusker with the broken tooth. These were the angriest, most irritated creatures, most prone to very violent episodes. So why do you think primitive man chose to worship Ganesh, an elephant with a broken tooth? Because fear and worship are two sides of one coin.
And – too much information? – since my interest in toilets stems partly from a few months spent in India, I was delighted that this novel also featured the real rural Indian’s suspicion of indoor lavatories.
There are no elephants in the temple that features prominently in Anuradha Roy’s third novel, but there is a young filmmaker with another agenda. Nomi was orphaned by a brutal attack on the village neither she nor the reader knows much about. But she can remember arriving by boat to live in an ashram aged about seven, before being fostered in Norway in her teens. Now in her mid-twenties, she arrives in the temple resort of Jarmulu, ostensibly to research a documentary, but also to tie up loose ends from the past. But, like many abuse victims who haven’t yet been able to tell their stories, Nomi isn’t aware just how vulnerable she is, and the memories and subsequent disorientation leave her at risk.
Like The Tusk, Sleeping on Jupiter is an eloquent novel about the violence behind the beauty and apparent serenity of India, in this case less about the rape of the environment, but the embedded misogyny, sexual harassment and assault of women and children. Roy casts a critical eye at the religiosity and spiritualism of a culture that permits so many citizens to live in extreme poverty; at the sanctimonious policing of women’s dress around temples adorned with erotic, or even pornographic, carvings; at cultish gurus who use their positions of power to groom girls to become sexual slaves, while being admired by the outside world for their generosity. While the latter has made me wonder exactly what may have been going on behind the scenes in an ashram where I stayed in the mid-1980s, as we’re seeing with the uncovering of sexual abuse by celebrities like Jimmy Savile, this is not a problem specific to India.
The Tusk That Did the Damage is published by Harvill Secker and Sleeping on Jupiter by MacLehose – thanks to each for my review copy. And, although I would have been reading and reviewing these books anyway, I’m pleased to be able to present them as part of #diversedecember, along with These Are the Names and Odysseus Abroad. (And, since it was almost December when I put up my review, I’m linking in The Fishermen too.)