A MAN SITS by his kitchen table with pen and paper. In the next room a baby girl sleeps, wrapped in a blue bedspread. By morning, two government officials will come and take the baby away. As the Calcutta night creeps toward dawn, the man writes a letter to the infant girl. When it is done, the letter tells her all of her tangled history—and the man's sordid involvement in it.
The Blue Bedspread
by Raj Kamal Jha (Random House, $21.95)
Raj Kamal Jha's slim first novel, The Blue Bedspread, put the 33-year-old Delhi newspaper editor in the ranks of India's top writers. However, while Vikram Seth, Arundhati Roy, and Salman Rushdie work with largesse, Jha's style is quite the opposite. Called by one critic "an Indian Raymond Carver," Jha builds his story impressionistically, stringing together terse, atmospheric prose illustrating how love and violence intertwine in the domestic realm. For instance, Jha's narrator recalls how his alcoholic father physically, psychologically, and sexually tormented his family, and how he could also make them feel like angels. The man remembers the way he and his sister retreated under their blue, star-spangled bedspread, where they created their own imaginative world. The man remembers the day his sister left, and how she was finally able to get on with her life. By writing this letter, the man struggles to do the same for himself.
Not unlike the film American Beauty, Jha's book deals with human behavior that seems utterly reprehensible at first, but ultimately manages to find a certain beauty in that behavior. While Jha's writing is occasionally sentimental, even sophomoric, his approach to this delicate story reflects the deliberation between truth and deliverance.