In Vishnu Dreams, siblings Durga and Subhas are a team tackling the difficulties of their angry father, alien classmates and the deterioration of their parents’ marriage. Their father is unable to work at his profession and their mother has moved them from Canada to the States to finish her doctorate. Eventually brother and sister are parted by divorce and forced to face the puzzling world from opposite sides of the continent. The setting of most of the novel in the immigrant experience in late 1960s America is well realized and evocative.
Many of the details and anecdotes in Vishnu Dreams seem autobiographical, perhaps because they feel real and uncomfortable but also mundane. This material never quite comes together to create a novel, partly because it lacks development and partly due to the episodic nature of the book, which includes chapters of material disconnected from each other by time and space, related only by the names of the characters. Even considered as a collection of linked short stories, this exploration fails to become memorable. The most affecting section of the book is a chapter made up of nine very short snippets in the lives of the young Durga and Subhas as they struggle between their unhappy family and trying to fit into a new town. In one poignant moment the school newsletter welcomes the new students from Kingston, Jamaica, not able to fathom that people of colour might come from Canada and not the Caribbean.
The beautiful passages drawing from Indian classical mythology seem out of place here, not really integral to the story or illuminating crucial events. The book is beautifully written and beautifully printed (as all Gaspereau books are). Yet it never seems to transport the reader to another realm and the characters remain elusive entities. Many themes emerge from these stories: culture, dislocation, sacrifice and reinvention–but it isn’t clear what they are all supposed to mean. (Kris Rothstein)
by Ven Begamudré, $24.95, 156 pgs Gaspereau Press, 47 Church Avenue Kentville, NS, B4N 2M7,.gaspereau.com