Synopses & Reviews
In the middle of a steamy Calcutta night the phone rings. An unnamed man in a city of millions answers to a voice telling him that his long-lost sister is dead. He must go to the hospital to identify the body and claim his sister's orphaned newborn daughter until she can be adopted the next day.
During the long hot night, the baby sleeps on a bedspread that used to be indigo blue, but has faded to almost white. As the child lies where the man and his sister used to sleep as children, he quietly writes stories for her, telling of his own childhood full of intensity, anguish, and poetry. He doesn't know his place in the world, but with the help of these stories, the baby someday might.
Raj Kamal Jha's ethereal, poetic prose echoes the loneliness of the human condition.
About the Author
RAJ KAMAL JHA's first novel, The Blue Bedspread, was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Jha lives in New Delhi, where he is executive editor of the Indian Express.
Reading Group Guide
Q> Why does the narrator feel the need to write out his and his sister's stories for the newborn baby? Why do you think the author, in turn, has the narrator tell his stories through shifts among actual and imagined past times, the present, and imagined futures? Q> To what extent might the narrator struggle against failing memory, distorted memory, and even an aversion to memory-to recall the specifics of his and his sister's painful lives? How reliable is his memory, and how truthful are the stories he writes down? Q> Why do the principal characters remain nameless and known to us only by generic titles-Brother, Sister, Father, the Old Man, and so on? Why does the author not present physical descriptions of the characters? Q> The narrator tells the baby, "In short, I will tell you happy stories and I will tell you sad stories. And remember, my child, your truth lies somewhere in between." What is the relationship-and the ratio-between the happy stories and the sad? What might the child's truth be, and in what ways does it lie between the happy stories and the sad? Q> How important is writing things down-to the narrator, to the author, and to us? Why does the narrator consider writing things down "the most important lesson my father taught me"? Q> To what extent may the destructive, corrosive behavior of one generation be rewritten by those who come after? Q> The narrator comments that it was his and his sister's "daily theater of pleasure and fear, played out on our blue bedspread, that carried us . from one night to the next." What pleasures, fears, and feelings of guilt does the narrator identify throughout his stories? In what ways are they similar to or different from the pleasures, fears, and guilts characteristic of "normal" family life? Q> Describing the Blanket Game, the narrator enjoins the baby to "remember that with a little bit of imagination, you can always find some love trapped in some fear." What specific instances of love trapped in fear occur in the lives of the narrator and his sister? How does love become trapped in fear? In what ways does imagination provide a means to overcome or transform fear and pain? Q> What is the importance of the "one image that emerges" on this night of storytelling, "the image of a child lying on his stomach in a tiny garden"? What images of and scenes in gardens-real and imagined, from this tiny garden to Eden Gardens-occur in The Blue Bedspread? What is their importance? Q> What incidents and details of violence, cruelty, and abuse does the narrator present? What might be the ongoing significance of those incidents and details? What are their effects on the narrator, his sister, and us? Q> Remembering the night on the train, the narrator recalls that his father could not beat his mother in the presence of others and that "it's this heavenly comfort of strangers that the child covers himself with." In what ways, in this incident and others, do strangers provide the boy and the man the "heavenly comfort" not found in the family? Q> "This city likes lonely people," the narrator tells the baby, "the city likes this man." What have been the role and importance of loneliness in the lives of the narrator and his sister and the lives of others? What has prevented the narrator and others from escaping loneliness? Q> Does the narrator imagine the incidents of his sister's life after she left home, or do you think he is reporting what she has told him? In what ways might these incidents-actual or imagined-explain her return, following her husband's death, "to what was once her home" and to her brother? Q> How do the white washbasin, the black iron hook, and the brown hinge of the bedroom door determine an absolutely straight line, as "the three points where three things happened to your mother and me"? What is the importance of these three events? To what does this straight line eventually lead? Q> Why is it that "No one noticed" the strong wind and subsequent four-day storm that began on the evening of Sister's planned departure? Why is it that "No one noticed" her preparations, the reasons for her running away, and the suffering endured for so many years by two children and their mother? What does the narrator mean when he later writes of himself and his sister that "both of us know that both of us noticed the wind and we knew, long before the world did, that it was a strong wind"? Q> The color blue appears in various contexts and with various associations throughout the novel. What specific objects are blue, and what is the significance of each-including the blue bedspread itself-to the narrator and his sister? What does the color blue come to signify for the narrator, and for us? Q> Why is it important that, as dawn approaches, the narrator finds the thirty-year-old cane lampshade "So that the light falls in a million specks on the blue bedspread, making our sky shimmer with stars"? In what ways have the nature and significance of those stars changed over thirty years? Q> What is the significance of the narrator's ultimate spoken public confession, however imaginary it may be? What is the importance of the statement, "he doesn't have to lie anymore, twist facts to flesh out his fiction"? What effect does this statement have on our understanding of everything that has gone before? Copyright (c) 2001. Published by Harcourt, Inc. Written by Hal Hager & Associates, Somerville, New Jersey