As sometimes mentioned on this blog, at Turnaround we work six months ahead – so, now (in August) we are working on books due out in February 2018. Not only can this get terribly confusing when remembering which month it actually is – especially when the unseasonable weather compounds our bewilderment! – but it throws up the issue of having to wait months and months for a book we are really excited for.
I first heard about Preti Taneja’s We That Are Young in February… it has been a helluva long wait!
Billed as ‘a modern-day King Lear,’ with an Indian setting, this is a book that has a lot of people (myself included) very excited. The King Lear retelling is truly extraordinary: the attention paid to mirroring and subverting Lear is clever and scrupulous and just works so, so well with the contemporary Indian backdrop.
But for me King Lear is a scaffold which the author has bedecked with some of the most excellent prose I have ever read – so wonderfully vivid and decadent and it made me feel delirious (in a good way!). Told in five main sections, each with a separate narrator, they are all distinct in terms of style, language and tropes.
A dynastic epic, We That Are Young tells story of billionaire entrepreneur/tycoon Devraj Bapuji. The son of a maharaja who gambled away the family fortune, Devraj founded Company India which, over the years, has grown to a corporation of colossal proportions. He has three daughters (Gargi, Radha and Sita), a decrepit but still stern mother, a head of security who appears to be losing it and an unscrupulous right-hand man – Ranjit Singh.
Each of the five main sections are told by Devraji’s daughters and Ranjit’s sons – Jivan and Jeet – who grew up alongside the girls, until Jivan was sent to America with his mother. The opening section is told from Jivan’s point of view as he returns to India for the first time, having had little contact with his old life for the past fifteen years, determined to make a place for himself within the company and in the world he was forced to leave behind. The subsequent sections – Gargi, Radha, Jeet and Sita – all offer that character’s alternative takes on what is happening to Devraj and his legacy, to the point where any sense of who is good or bad, right or wrong becomes completely warped. By the time you get to Sita’s chapters absolutely nothing is as it first seemed, and it is not until the short, final sixth section ‘We That Are Young’ that we finally get us a sense of objectivity… and it is quite a wake-up call.
This is a book that utterly floored me from start to finish – and one that really lives up to its ‘father’ text – with its remarkable writing, potent themes and a smashing reconstruction of a much-loved play. It looks set to be one of the biggest books of the summer, with very good reason.