A young man's close-knit family is nearly destitute when his uncle founds a successful spice company, changing their fortunes overnight. As they move from a cramped, ant-infested shack to a larger house on the other side of Bangalore, and try to adjust to a new way of life, the family dynamic begins to shift.
The tense fun of reading this vivid, fretful story lies in watching the main characters grab hold of what they think will be rescue ropes, but instead turn out to be slip knots ... Ghachar Ghochar is filled with wry poetic lines like that one where Shanbhag — and his translator, Srinath Perur — have rendered emotions and even random thoughts in language that's as pungent as those spices the family is marketing. Within the tight confines of a hundred pages or so, Shanbhag presents as densely layered a social vision of Bangalore as Edith Wharton did of New York in The House of Mirth ... Ghachar Ghochar is the first of Shanbhag's fiction to be published in English, but I expect it won't be the last. He's one of those special writers who can bring a fully realized world to life in a few pages and also manages to work in smart social commentary about fears that don't require much translation.
This spiny, scary story of moral decline, crisply plotted and no thicker than my thumb, has been heralded as the finest Indian novel in a decade, notable for a book in bhasha, one of India’s vernacular languages ... Folded into the compressed, densely psychological portrait of this family is a whole universe: a parable of rising India, an indictment of domestic violence, a taxonomy of ants and a sly commentary on translation itself ... Shanbhag is excellent on the inner logic of families, and of language, how even the most innocent phrases come freighted with history ... The book in our hands is elegant, lean, balletic.
Ghachar Ghochar is both fascinatingly different from much Indian writing in English, and provides a masterclass in crafting, particularly on the power of leaving things unsaid ... the short novel is the perfect form for Shanbhag’s particular talents: precise observations, accumulation of detail, narrative progression by way of oblique tangents ... there is no doubt that this deceptively unassuming book will find its readership.