Sunday, September 15, 2013

#BookReview--> Tall Man Small Shadow by Vipin Behari Goyal




What is Existentialism? 
Why would anyone base his novel on it?
Whats so great about it that anyone would consider making it the core of their book? 

All these and more questions I faced when I took up Tall Man Small Shadow by Vipin Behari Goyal for reading.
Well first of all, I hadn't heard the term "existentialism" before I came across this book and that's one reason why the book appealed to me. The other being the cover where a tall man standing projects a small shadow of a woman. Pretty intriguing..huh..

Tall Man Small Shadow is Vipin Behari Goyal's debut English novel and it keeps the concept of existentialism at the core of the story. The book is primarily narrated by Anupam (his name is disclosed in the later part of the book.) who is happily married to Sulekha and has a daughter, Aalya. Salil is their new neighbor.

Anupam is getting old and he is worried for his daughter's future. He wants her to marry a good man and live happily but is also afraid of his own life after his daughter's marriage. He feels that Aalya is the one who fills the vacuum in his life. She cares for his ailing wife who is unable to do the simple daily chores like cooking, mending, shopping etc. and brings youthful exuberance in their otherwise dull lives. Aalya, who is completing her doctorate under her mentor Seema, is fascinated by Salil from the first instant and is not sure of her feelings for him. Meanwhile she gets into an affair with Seema, who is a lesbian and in a unsatisfying relationship with her husband ,Paul. Seema has had lesbian relations with numerous of her students but still feels a certain responsiblity towards Aalya and doesn't wish to force her into having an affair with her. Salil is fascinated by Aalya's shadow which according to him takes many forms during the course of the story. He had loved a girl in college, Nasrin and when she got married he couldn't bear it and got depressed eventually trying to commit suicide. Later in the novel, after his introduction and friendship with Aalya, he starts understanding that he loves Aalya and that she has taken the place that once Nasrin held in his heart.

But does Aalya also love him or is her fascination to him only skin deep?
If they both love each other then can Aalya commit herself to him and finish her affair with Seema?
Will Seema let go of Aalya so easily if she wishes to finish their affair?

The characterization is very strong and each character has multiple dimensions to their nature. Example, Seema at one point is shown as a reckless, vengeful person who is ready to ruin young, naive girls for their prospective future married lives by luring them into having lesbian relations with her. But at the other time is shown as a good and considerate person when she lets go of Aalya once she tells her about her feelings for Salil.

The story takes different paths with each character having his/her own story to tell and own philosophies to follow. There is the content and deeply philosophical, Anupam who tries to make sense of each occurrence in his life and how it affects the future scenarios. His primary function in the novel is to coin existentialist philosophies for the day-to-day events that take place in his life, which centers on his wife, Sulekha, and their only child, Aalya. Aalya, his daughter is intelligent and wants to excel in her studies but is also fascinated by her neighbor, Salil. Salil is a loner who doesn't want anyone to disturb him and has therefore foregone even a nameplate outside his house. He is obsessed with shadows which transform into many characters to reveal the secrets of life in the story  and is an avid reader with only books as favorable company. He is well read and has his own philosophy for life and the ever occurring circumstances. Sulekha, Anupam's wife is shown as an ailing and sensitive woman who is very punctual about her routine such as her time of tea etc. but otherwise acting as just a witness to daily events with almost no participation. This however, proves a camouflage and she is shown in her true avatar as a strong and intelligent woman and a good planner and manipulator who knows how to achieve what she desires without being too evident about it, in the later part of the book. It is she who bridges the gap between what is socially unacceptable to what is acceptable to ensure her daughter’s happiness. Seema, Aalya's mentor and teacher in college, also has a strong presence in the story as a discontent, unsatisfied wife who is neglected by her husband, Paul and therefore seeks contentment and satisfaction in her work as well as her students.

Although seeming like a simple love story, this book is unlike any other book that I have ever read. Its thought provoking and the narrator deals philosophically with various topics like relations, marriage, life, youth,society, suicide, depression, husband-wife relations etc. leaving the reader deeply affected and forced to question his inbred conceptions to everything he knows about these topics and more. 

Tall Man Small Shadow is no leisure read but a very serious book with some well researched points made to liberate the reader and open his mind to controversial scenarios and explanations to life and human behavior. The author has experimented by taking a risk in writing such an unconventional book which deals with controversial topics also and has succeeded in making the reader wait and take notice!

The idea of giving each and every character a voice at some or the other point in the story is refreshingly new and effective though at some places the sudden change in the voice confuses the reader and one has to stop and re read that part to make sense. This could have been taken care of with some more time at editing.
I also felt that the part where Salil engages in a one-night-stand with Nasrin after her marriage just because she requests him for a son was unnecessary and also made me wonder about the point that the author wanted to make by sketching such a scene. 

Why was Nasrin so sure that having physical relations with Salil would surely grant her a son and not a daughter? 
And how was she so sure that having physical relations only once was enough to impregnate her? Also there was no explanation why she didn't go to her husband with her demand. Was he in some way compromised? 

I seriously felt that the story could have done perfectly without it. There was absolutely no reason to include it. Also some grammatical errors present in the book could have been rectified with more editing.

There are ample twists in the story which surprise and keep the reader hooked. I was specially astounded by the ending which was pretty unexpected and will be welcomed by all readers wholeheartedly. A book for the mature and open minded, it is a complex book with multiple layers to it and which are beautifully revealed as the reader progresses with the story. I don't have enough words to explain all that is going on in my mind after reading this book but know this, it is a book that teaches as well as makes us dwell on all our beliefs and morals. 

I give it a 4 out of 5 and a strong recommendation to read and dwell on it.

I was given a free copy by the author, Vipin Behari Goyal and I am very thankful to him for introducing me to this thought provoking book. The review is my personal and honest opinion and in no way influenced.

Buy From:
Amazon.in:Paperback | Kindle Edition
Amazon.com:Paperback | Kindle Edition
Flipkart.com: Paperback

About The Author:

Vipin Behari Goyal is a Financial Advisor in Government of Rajasthan by profession. His love for books is unparalleled making him an avid reader as well as a prolific writer.
His debut English novel Tall Man Small Shadow based on existentialism was published in July 2013. His prior writings include a travel handbook on “TirthRaj Pushkar” and a collection of Hindi poems titled “Tej Dhoop Ka Safar”
He has also dabbled in documentary film making and is the maker of award-winning short film “Mines are Mine”
Forthcoming Novels “Maya In Search of Tantric father” and "The old man and the nymph" 

Contact at: viping19@gmail.com

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