There are different kinds of families. Some who love, some who don’t and there are some who are embroiled in greed. The heart of Priscila Uppal’s novel’s family is somewhat centred around that. Poet, Novelist and Academician, Priscila Uppal is the latest author to wade into the waters of identity politics with her second novel, To Whom It May Concern, the saga of the splintered Dange Family. With every read centred on a family, I get drifted into remembering what Tolstoy had to say about families; however I shall not quote him here.
The aging patriarch, an immigrant named Hardev is an engineer confined to a wheelchair, since an accident left him paralyzed. He has separated from his wife Isobel a long time ago and now shares the family’s original suburban Ottawa home with his son Emile. The novel opens to Hardev watching his family discussing Thanksgiving Dinner (well half-parentage certainly helps with reference to festivals) – Emile, Birendra – his oldest daughter, her fiancé Victor, who is meeting Hardev for the first time. Isobel has skipped the dinner, as well as Dorothy, the couple’s 17-year old daughter, a precocious deaf student and artist who works part-time in a tattoo parlour.
Unknown to the entire family, Hardev is about to lose the house to the bank, unless he can find a way to earn enough money to pay off his mortgage payments. At the same time, he is also struggling to save his family and get them together (kind of reminds you of The Corrections).
The novel bursts with secondary characters – Mohab, Emile’s devout Muslim friend who may be homosexual, the homecare worker Rodriguez, and Kite – Dorothy’s co-conspirator in a plan to build a massive college (aptly titled, “To Whom It May Concern”) charting their fellow students’ transient, and fluctuating identities.
The plot is told by different characters and not just one. There are many voices and each one is so sort of jostling with the other to be heard by the reader. The transitions between each voice are seamless. Each character is in his or her place and is not misplaced, as it could happen when dealing with more characters. The book has been touted as a modern version of “King Lear”; however I did not feel that. What I felt was that each character was struggling in the book to find their own and find their place in the world.
The way the novel is written is different. For instance, you get a glimpse of Birendra’s wedding menu to how a bank forecloses on a home mortgage. These are strategically placed and move the story in its rightful direction. The book will make you laugh and make you cry. For me at the end of it all, it was a fulfilling experience.
To Whom It May Concern; Uppal, Priscila; Penguin India; Rs. 350