Truth be told, I was quite impressed with the first few chapters of Tsipi Sharoor’s Calypso. Her writing style reminded me of Arundhati Roy’s The God Of Small Things, had it (Roy’s book) been written more poetically. But as the story progressed, I felt I was somehow being let down by the characters, especially the protagonist, Shlomit.
Genre: Literary fiction with elements of magical realism.
Summary: Calypso is essentially the journey of a woman, trying to find peace by evading the demons that have scarred her, trying to grow, but at the same time being consumed by the very same demons. Shlomit, the aforementioned woman, seems to feel that love is what will redeem her, but she is unwilling to let her childhood friend get close to her due to something unfortunate that happened to her and rendered her incapable of opening up to anyone. Abandoned by her childhood friend, Yair, and having lost her brother, Amos in the 1967 Six–Day War, she travels to India in search of home and peace.
Characters: Shlomit, who has already been introduced in the paragraphs above. Now, here is my problem with Shlomit. She does not truly “develop” as a character. We see her getting rid of her nightmares and beginning a new life in India, but essentially she is the same person, pining once for the love of Yair, and later for the love of Seth. The men she falls in love with inadvertently remind her of her brother, Amos, which is a little weird. In fact, she always saw Amos in Seth, but ends up marrying him. Some conflicting emotions out there… Yair: A premature baby born to the crazy, Amira. His mother had a nun make a bewitched carving on his back when he was born; as a result, he often felt a small baby girl riding on his back (another premature baby born around the same time as him). Interestingly, in another part of the world, the now-grown-baby girl feels a baby boy riding on her scar. Yair’s scar gives him precognitive reflexes. Kinda like Harry’s lightening scar. He apparently loved Shlomit all his young life, but when he comes to know she was raped, he leaves her (alone on a beach) without a second thought. And also, while he waited for her, he slept with nearly every girl in school. Esther: Shlomit’s mother, former lover of Avram, Yair’s father. This erstwhile union drove Amira and Joseph (Shlomit’s father) away from their respective spouses, resulting in the deaths of both Avram and Amira. Seth: An Indian man who makes Shlomit fall for him (after telling her she was like a little sister to him) and helps her “heal”.
Narrative: The first 80% of this novel is written in the “3 steps forward, 2 steps back” format. The events do not occur chronologically and this is why it reminded me of The God Of Small Things. But the last three or four chapters are written more-or-less sequentially. It is written from Shlomit’s point of view, in third person. However, the constant use of the pronoun (she/her etc.), even where the usage of her name is called for is a little tiring. This gets especially confusing in the beginning, in contexts where there are two or more women.
I would not call Calypso a piece of purple prose. No, it is far from it. But there are times when the sentences look a tad too poetic to be believable.
Shlomit wants to move on, but lives persistently in the past. She constantly dreams and relives. At times, it gets confusing whether the scene being described is actually happening or a figment of Shlomit’s imagination.
There are places where the author places parenthesized notes in the narrative to describe unfamiliar terms. These take the focus away from the scene. They could have been placed as an appendix at the end.
The Six-Day War could have been described in more detail. Due to the light way in which it has been handled in the book, the reader quite does not empathize with Amos’ family after his passing. Of course, it is entirely up to the author to present their book in whichever way they like.
Typos/Inaccuracies: There are some typos here and there in the book (Mrs Simone has been spelled as Mrs Simon in two instances, “the” has been written as “they” etc.) There were a few instances where a page ended in the middle of a dialogue, but started with a fresh paragraph on the next page.
There are some minor inaccuracies in the portrayal of India. For example, at first I could not for an instant figure out what the cries of “Jia jia” in a temple meant. I later figured, the author meant “jai, jai”. Similar words with different meanings. Similarly, the Shlomit mentions a certain kind of sweet, it is not clear which sweet she’s referring to, as the ingredients just don’t add up! She also says Rachel spoke about Diwali, the festival of lights. Rachel is from a land where Diwali during the sixties was not celebrated as it is in the rest of the country. So, this does not seem right (yes, you could argue that her general knowledge might have been good, but they left the country when she was still very young).
Rating: All in all, Calypso is a poignant and tragic story. We do not weep with Shlomit, but we finish the book feeling a little heavy in the heart. I would give it a 3.5/5.
Note: This review was requested by Shlomit Malter of Contento De Semrik Publishing House. I was informed that a free Kindle copy was available on a certain day, which I downloaded and read.