Synopses & Reviews
Neela Keetham and her brother Navi yearn to escape their hometown of Marasaw. Living with their grandmother after their mother had left years before to find work abroad, they struggle against the poverty and limited opportunities available in Marasaw. Navi hopes to prosper from his talent as a math prodigy, while Neela constantly battles to find some talent to rival her brother’s.
Despite the support of their grandmother and friends, both Navi and Neela find that escaping their circumstances, much less their past, is no easy task. The siblings make their separate ways out of Marasaw, but each must make sacrifices and damaging compromises along the way. They also learn dark and dangerous truths about each other, driving them apart in fear and anger.
As Navi and Neela work tirelessly to create new lives for themselves, the outside world, far from being a paradise, is revealed as more punishing and unfair than the world they left behind. Navi wins a prestigious government internship, but his success ironically snuffs out the opportunity for a lasting, loving relationship with a fellow intern. On the strength of rumours and the word of her boyfriend Jaroon, Neela daringly makes her way to a resort town hidden in the rainforest to work as a teacher, only to find that this “Eden,” and Jaroon, are not what they seem.
Chastened and wiser for their experiences, Neela and then Navi are both forced by circumstances to return home. The disappearance of Neela’s daughter, Seetha, leads them back to each other and into the complex and mysterious bonds of family. To save Seetha, Neela and Navi must attempt to heal their damaged relationship and along the way they discover that in the cruel and imperfect world in which they live, hope may still prevail.
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Andrea Gunraj is a community outreach worker for METRAC (www.metrac.org), which promotes the rights of women and children to live free from violence and the threat of violence. Her parents immigrated from Guyana, a region whose culture and politics have infused Gunrajs writing. She and her husband live in Toronto.
From the Hardcover edition.
Reading Group Guide
1. It could be argued that Navi's life is a success, while his sister Neela could be characterized as less successful. Do you feel this is a fair assessment of them both? Do you think they would describe themselves the same way?
2. Neela's mysterious power is referenced throughout the novel, but she never understands or tries to control it, choosing instead to "bask in its darkness." Do you think this represents a missed opportunity for her? If she had learned more about her power, what changes could it have made in her life?
3. Were Navi's choices in the novel lapses in judgment, or a necessary compromise without which he would never have left Marasaw? Would he have been happier if he had done nothing wrong but never left home?
4. Both Neela and Navi escape Marasaw in different ways, and find that their new lives don't live up to their initial promise. What are the main reasons for this disappointment?
5. Within the novel, it is accepted that politicians, police and soldiers are corrupt or at least, out only for themselves. With so many obstacles to success, can people like Navi and Neela improve their lot in life by themselves, or are they prisoners of a corrupt society? How do you perceive corruption within your own social context?
6. Neela makes impetuous decisions, while Navi is more coldly calculating. Do you think it's better to lead with the heart or the head? How do you lead your own life?
7. Racism and the legacy of colonialism are alluded to on several occasions in the novel. How much of Navi and Neela's behaviour can be attributed to their personalities, and how much to the broader context?
8. After exhausting official channels, Navi must use his influence and government money to pay a bribe and arrange for Seetha's safe return. Discuss Navi's motives for making these choices.
9. Navi and Neela have their flaws, but they end up working together to rescue Seetha, and the novel ends on a hopeful note. What kind of hope is there for Navi and Neela's future - both together and individually?
10. What do you think the future holds for Seetha? How might her life be different from her mother's and uncle's?