Reviews

Book review: Kumkum Malhotra by Preti Taneja | Indian literary fiction

Kumkum Malhotra is the most beautiful book I have read in a while. It’s vivid and grotesque and it’s the book that managed to get me out of my reading slump. In only 47 pages, Preti Taneja manages to tell the story of a woman whose life is perfectly normal, perfectly respectable, and then changes so suddenly and in such unexpected ways that it will leave you speechless.

Kumkum Malhotra is a respectable woman. She has a husband and children, and her life is normal, routine-like. One day she is preparing herself for an important dinner with relatives, and everything is supposed to go smoothly. But then something happens that changes her, changes her family, changes her entire life. The author is so damn talented that I didn’t see this change coming, at least not the way it happened. I was expecting something mildly interesting, nothing major, but I was left speechless. Preti Taneja’s writing style is so intense that this change is nothing short of grotesque. I’m not easily disgusted when I read, but her description of the scene made me feel slightly queasy.

Everything after that reads like someone slowly falling deeper and deeper, Kumkum’s life getting worse with every page, her mind and everything around her deteriorating. The blurb of the novella says that her sense of self unravels, and I think that’s genuinely the best way of putting it. There are sudden changes of emotion, and with those the writing style changes as well, faster and louder when the events are hectic, slower and more quiet when everything seems to stand still and the days just pass, one after the other. Certain scenes read like someone is punching you in the stomach, not just when they’re disgusting, but when they involve simple family life, conversations between people who are supposed to love and treat each other kindly, but who only know how to use harsh words.

On the back of the novella, someone compared Preti’s writing to Katherine Mansfield’s, but I don’t entirely agree. Their themes are similar in that they both depict family life in an honest way, showing the raw aspects of marriage, and the bleakness a lot of women face on an everyday basis. But I think their writing styles are quite different. Mansfield is vivid as well, but in a less haunting and more lively way.

I recently discovered that this little book is part of a series of novellas, all following women whose lives change drastically, and as soon as I found out I went and bought the other two that are in the collection so far. They are all absolutely stunning, but so far the cover of this one is definitely my favourite. The little gothic-style picture in the corner is the most beautiful artwork I’ve seen in a long time, and I think it’s especially impressive considering that these books are all created by a small, independent publisher called Gatehouse Press. All of their books sound and look amazing, so definitely check them out! I was also told that Preti Taneja has a book deal for a full novel, called We That Are Young, which will be released by Galley Beggar Press in July this year. It’s a re-telling of Shakespeare’s King Lear set in contemporary India, which (even though I haven’t read King Lear) sounds amazing, so I will definitely get my hands on that!

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. If you’re looking for a beautifully written story set in India, if you want to start reading literary fiction, or even if you’re just looking for a short novella you can finish in one sitting – read this! And if you already have, do let me know what you thought of it!

 

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‘Till next time and happy reading!

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