Ghachar Ghochar: A Novel by Vivek Shanbhag

Ghachar Ghochar: A Novel

byVivek ShanbhagTranslated bySrinath Perur

Paperback | February 7, 2017

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“A great Indian novel." The New York Times Book Review (Editors' Choice)

"A classic tale of wealth and moral ruin." The New Yorker

"Ghachar Ghochar introduces us to a master." —The Paris Review

  
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. Allegiances realign; marriages are arranged and begin to falter; and conflict brews ominously in the background. Things become “ghachar ghochar”—a nonsense phrase uttered by one meaning something tangled beyond repair, a knot that can't be untied.

Elegantly written and punctuated by moments of unexpected warmth and humor, Ghachar Ghochar is a quietly enthralling, deeply unsettling novel about the shifting meanings—and consequences—of financial gain in contemporary India.


Longlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award
One of the BBC's "10 Books You Should Read in February"
One of Publishers Weekly's "Writers to Watch Spring 2017"
One of the NewYorker.com contributors' "Books We Loved in 2016"

About The Author

Vivek Shanbhag is the author of eight works of fiction and two plays, all of which have been published to wide acclaim in the South Indian language Kannada. He was a Fall 2016 resident at the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. The first of his books to appear in English, Ghachar Ghochar was excerpted in Granta’s 2...
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Details & Specs

Title:Ghachar Ghochar: A NovelFormat:PaperbackDimensions:128 pages, 7.12 × 5.06 × 0.42 inPublished:February 7, 2017Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:014311168X

ISBN - 13:9780143111689

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“It is one of the strengths of families to pretend that they desire what is unavoidable” (p. 11).  An Introduction to Ghachar Ghochar, by Vivek Shanbhag               As Ghachar Ghochar opens, the novel’s unnamed narrator is waiting for a lemon soda at his favorite haunt, a Bangalore café named simply “Coffee House.” To outsiders, nothing about him would seem out of the ordinary. Perhaps only Vincent, the waiter whom the narrator suspects “knows the regulars at Coffee House better than they know themselves” (p. 2), can sense that he is a man in turmoil. As he contemplates whether to unburden himself to Vincent, the narrator begins to recount the events that led him to this desperate place.             About two weeks earlier, a woman arrived at the house where the narrator lives with his father, Appa, his mother, Amma, his wife, Anita, his sister, Malati, and his uncle, Chikkappa. The woman—whose “affection for Chikkappa was evident” (p. 16)—was polite and came bearing his favorite curry, but Amma and Malati attempted to send her away, at first coldly, and then with increasing anger.             Chikkappa remained hidden away inside the house as his sister-in-law and niece verbally abused the woman, who eventually left in tears. The narrator was stunned to see his mother and sister behaving “like dogs protecting their territory,” but said nothing (p. 17). His wife, Anita, did not participate—an act of dissent that cannot have gone unnoticed by his mother and sister. Though they barely acknowledged what happened, the incident clearly upset the household’s delicate balance.             Although he is the younger brother, Chikkappa is the true head of the household. For many years, the family scraped by on the meager salary Appa earned as a tea salesman. They purchased only the barest necessities, and those only after a period of intense calculation and discussion. This all changed, however, when Appa lost his job, and Chikkappa convinced his younger brother to let him use his retirement savings to open a wholesale spice company, Sona Masala. The company became an overnight success, enabling the family to move into a large home, which they were able to furnish as they pleased.             For the first time in their lives, the family is free from financial worry. With a generous dowry, Malati marries the son of a wealthy merchant in an opulent wedding. Chikkappa works tirelessly, and the business flourishes. Appa has no responsibilities within the company, but because of his initial investment, he “owns half of Sona Masala’s considerable assets” (p. 37), as Chikkappa promised. Yet “Appa enjoys [their] current prosperity with considerable hesitation, as if it were undeserved” (p. 24), leading the rest of the family—including Malati, who has left her husband—to fear he might donate his share of their wealth to charity. The narrator draws a salary from the company, though he, too, has no official duties. Unlike his father, he is unperturbed by this situation—until it is his turn to marry.            When the family turns its attention to finding a suitable wife for the narrator, a family friend makes an introduction to a young woman named Anita, the educated daughter of a professor. On their honeymoon, she teaches him the nonsense phrase “ghachar ghochar” (p. 77), which she and her brother first used to refer to a kite string that became so tangled it was impossible to put right. Soon the phrase became family slang, and the narrator incorporates it into his lexicon, delighted to be admitted into the small circle of intimates who understand its meaning. These early days with his new wife are the happiest of his life. But after they return home and Anita discovers the truth about the narrator’s idleness, and the lengths to which the family will go to protect its newfound prosperity, it becomes clear that sudden wealth has turned their lives ghachar ghochar.            In simple, straightforward prose, Vivek Shanbhag unpacks a story of dazzling subtlety and depth. The first of his books to be translated into English, Ghachar Ghochar chronicles the complicated fortunes of an Indian family and introduces a master storyteller to the world stage.US

Editorial Reviews

“A great Indian novel...Folded into the compressed, densely psychological portrait of this family is a whole universe.” —Parul Sehgal, The New York Times Book Review (Editors' Choice)"[Shanbhag] is a master of inference and omission...What’s most impressive about Ghachar Ghochar...is how much intricacy and turmoil gets distilled into its few pages...[A] wise and skillful book." —Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal"A classic tale of wealth and moral ruin and a parable about capitalism and Indian society."  —The New Yorker"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…He's one of those special writers who can bring a fully realized world to life in a few pages...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.”—Maureen Corrigan, NPR“Great Indian novels…tend towards large tomes, written in English. Now, however, the arrival of a new work has shaken up the status quo: Vivek Shanbhag’s gripping Ghachar Ghochar. This slim volume…packs a powerful punch, both in terms of the precision of its portrait of one Bangalore-based family, and, by extension, what this tells us about modern India....Shanbhag is the real deal, this gem of a novel resounding with chilling truths.” –The Independent (UK)  “Masterful…This stunning Bangalore-set family drama underlines the necessity of reading beyond our borders….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.”–Deborah Smith, The Guardian"Ghachar Ghochar introduces us to a master." —Lorin Stein, The Paris Review“One of the finest literary works you will ever encounter…a nuanced wonder.”–Irish Times"A feat of taut, economical storytelling...[with] moments of wonderfully dark, often unexpected, cynicism." —Financial Times  "One of the best novels to have come out of India in recent decades." —Pankaj Mishra, author of Age of Anger“Vivek Shanbhag is an Indian Chekhov.” —Suketu Mehta, author of Maximum City"In this exquisitely observed, wry and moving novel, the smallest detail can conjure entire worlds of feeling. Vivek Shanbhag is a writer of rare and wonderful gifts." —Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You"One of my favorite contemporary writers in English translates one of the leading figures of Kannada literature. The result is mesmerizing, distressing—and altogether brilliant." —Karan Mahajan, author of The Association of Small Bombs “Vivek Shanbhag is one of those writers whose voice takes your breath away at the first encounter.” —Yiyun Li, author of Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life“Ghachar Ghochar is one of the most striking novels you’ll read this decade. . . . In Shanbhag’s hands, the Indian family is revealed in layers; as one layer peels away, what lies beneath is left raw and exposed.” —Nilanjana Roy, Business Standard (India)"[Shanbhag is] an extraordinary storyteller — one astutely alive to the competing forces of self-interest and empathy."—Jonathan Lee, Electric Literature“Suketu Mehta deems Vivek Shanbhag ‘an Indian Chekhov’….Shanbhag has earned this lofty comparison.” –The Globe and Mail (Canada)"A firecracker of a novel...concise and mesmerizing." —Publishers Weekly, starred review"A Tolstoyan portrait of family conflict and shifting priorities in modern-day India....Captivating."—Shelf Awareness, starred review"A compact novel that crackles with tension." —Kirkus Reviews“A delight…You will read Ghachar Ghochar…in part of an evening, about the length of time you’d need to watch one of Chekhov’s masterpieces. You’ll experience the same pleasure.” –CounterPunch“Very rarely a book comes along that you want to thrust in the hands of everyone—readers and non-readers. Ghachar Ghochar is one such book.” —Prajwal Parajuly, The Hindustan Times (India)“Altogether a delight to read . . . Shanbhag gives us an insider’s feel for the concerns that have shaped the middle class in the last half a century.” —Girish Karnad, The Indian Express (India)“An ingenious tale of how material wealth robs a family of its moral fortitude . . . [Shanbhag] is obviously a master of the form.” —Mint (India)“Ghachar Ghochar reveals a consummate fiction writer at the height of his powers. . . . a literary sensation across India.” —Scroll.in (India)“Ghachar Ghochar is a book of distilled simplicity, its surface of seeming artlessness hiding that most complex and complicated of things—truthfully rendered human life. Beautiful, tense, surprising, utterly convincing and wise, and translated with real inspiration by Srinath Perur.”  —Neel Mukherjee, author of The Lives of Others“A remarkable novel about the fragile civilities of bourgeois life. The reader becomes absorbed in the unforgiving self-knowledge and expansive humanity contained in every page.” —Amit Chaudhuri, author of Freedom Song and Odysseus Abroad