It is a story of three generations set in West Bengal, recited in three different parts of the novel. The story of Amulya Babu, Kananbala, Mr. and Mrs. Barnum is told in narrator’s point of view. An uncaring husband and the confinement within four walls in a quiet neighborhood of Songarh pushes Kananbala to insanity. She spends her life looking at passerbys outside her room window. On one such occassion, she becomes witness to a heinous crime and eventually befriends Mrs. Barnum from across the house. The first part of the novel ends with the end of the first generation and the beginnings of second and third generations of the family. As the new head of the house, Kamal, Amulya’s son, is made responsible for the family business while the second son, Nirmal, grieves his dead wife and goes on various wanderings of his own, leaving his daughter behind at home. In the meantime, Bakul, Nirmal’s daughter grows up with an orphan boy called Mukunda and explores her desires. As they reach the brim of puberty, Mukunda is sent away to Calcutta in the pretext of better education. The story constantly presses upon the depression Songarh (the little town where the family resides) brings to the women of the family, for the lack of social life. Irrespective of all their lamentations, the family stays on. The third part of the novel is told in the perspective of Mukunda, an orphan boy brought up by Nirmal and his family.
The story is centered around Mukunda and his impossible longings for affection and belongingness. Treated as an untouchable as a child and unwanted in the house where he was brought up, he longs for the companionship he shared with his childhood friend and lover, Bakul. His separation from Bakul brings forth hatred towards those who push him out of the house. This hatred stops him from contacting them ever again. However, distance doesn’t dull their longing for each other. Destiny brings them both together at several occasions and what happens in their lives because of that is the gist of the story. The story is slow paced, the writing is legible, coherent and easy to understand. The writing style is poetic and formal.
The plot is gripping and the characters are very well written. The novel also touches upon the effect of partition on Muslim communities in India and it really touched me as a reader. I loved the depth provided to the characters and the way the plot flowed smoothly. I really enjoyed reading the book and I highly recommend.
I suggest reading the book for the characters and the journey rather than for the ending.