"I'm not hungry," Apsara says.
"Then why do I slave in this house, cooking and cleaning? And he breaks his back teaching, just so we have the luxury of wasting our food?"
Didi was going through her sons' old clothes when some stranger woman stopped by to tell her that her husband (called Masterji through the entire book because he tutors students) has been cheating on her, and now has another wife and son living in the city. This is news to Didi but it doesn't seem to inspire in her the kind of reaction you would expect from scorned women. Earlier, the Masterji had sent her a letter saying that he will not be visiting her this year as he is quite busy (Masterji lives in the city while Didi stays in their native village with their two sons). Didi packs up her bags and arrives at the Masterji's city apartment with their two sons in tow, surprising her husband and leaving him no way to pretty his situation, in anticipation of her arrival.
Very soon, his other wife, Apsara, and their (maybe three- or four-year old) son, Tarun, arrive home, only to find that their sleeping arrangements have shifted a little. The two half-families do manage to somehow live together for a while though, before Apsara finally gives up and moves away, mainly on account of the Masterji's cowardice and lack of spine in asserting any sort of control or assurance of protection in the house. Although Didi hates Apsara, she has taken an intense fascination towards Tarun. She lavishes a lot of attention on him, feeds him anything he wants to eat, and shows him a lot more love than she does her other two sons. Didi is also very impulsive. Even a minor hint of being ignored by Tarun can make her feel venomous. Tarun also begins to love Didi more than anyone else. He has scant respect for his own mother, who is after all way too bitter and stuck with her own demons. But this attachment with Didi is preventing Tarun from socializing well with friends his age or expressing any interest in girls.
The City Son is what I would consider an explosive book. The author wastes no time getting into the story - there is no meaningless digressions or descriptions of the trees and the clouds and a person's complexion or similar, no pages of history before the main story starts - nothing that can divert the reader's attention. Instead he begins the story where it should (the revelation of Masterji's adultery) and proceeds to reveal the consequences. And what consequences they were!
At the core, The City Son deals with a taboo subject. Something very disgraceful and disgusting; something that destroys a lot of people in the process. That's about all I will say about it, but if you are curious to know what the topic was, comment below (or email me) and I'll email you. I wondered if I would have read the book if I knew what the taboo subject was, but I guess I probably would still, except I would be reading it with a sick feeling in my gut because I know it's coming. I'd love to spare you that anticipation (especially if you're planning to read this). Some books work because we know nothing about them.
I found it shocking that the taboo thing went on for years without anyone suspecting it. There are people who lost love because of it, people who lost confidence, and then there were people who suspected something vague and did not have the guts to save matters. The thing about reading such a book is that it keeps you at the edge of your seat. You want things out in the open, but there are people you care about caught in the webs, people you don't want to see hurt more than they already are. The author certainly had my attention throughout - it was really hard to put this book down. I finished reading this 245-page book in under 4 hours, and let me put that number in perspective - it generally takes me about 4 evenings to finish a book that size.
Of course, as I pointed out earlier, the pacing of the book is real fast. I wouldn't really call this entirely a plot-oriented book, as it's really a long progression from cause to effect. As for the character development, some were fleshed out much better than the others. There were a few characters who I wished had their own chapters - it would have been nice to know what they thought. But I wouldn't say there was anything major in the character development department. The book starts off from Didi's perspective, then transitions to Tarun's, and finally to a woman named Rukma. The transitions between characters seemed like a big gray area, where every relevant character seemed to talk at once. I never quite enjoyed these in-between paragraphs because I wasn't quite sure which narrator to focus at.
Note: I read the ARC edition, and it had plenty of Nepali phrases that were not explained. I hope the final edition straightened out that issue.
I received this book for free for review from the publisher.
Armchair reading in Nepal