Image from Amazon.co.uk
A family saga of repeating patterns of illness, loss and immigration. Often moving and funny, this is a novel about destiny and whether we have any control over our lives.
Nikesh Shukla has created some wonderful characters: Mukesh arrives in Keighley from Kenya in the 1970s to start a new life in London (!) and is bewildered to find himself the victim of race-hatred and violence while trying to fit in to the small local community. His English isn’t colloquial and he only has one decent suit, but then he falls in love with the feisty Nisha, the love of his life. So much so that after she dies, he fails to appreciate his own children. In the next generation we have their children: Rakesh, a wannabe comedian and his twin sister, Neha, a fascinating female character who (like someone in TV’s The Big Bang Theory) is a computer nerd, completely out of touch with her feelings. When she develops cancer (like her mother) she tries to plot the destinies of her whole family, in what for me was the most moving part of the novel. Finally we meet Ba, Nisha’s mother, who briefly looks after her grandchildren when her daughter dies. She has experienced the most loss in the novel, and is only waiting to die and re-join her family. The One Who Wrote Destiny is laced through with terrible obsessive sadness, in spite of some very funny passages. The casual racism at all levels is shocking, but there’s also desperately sad male violence directed at family members (and donkeys).
If I have a criticism it’s that Nikesh Shukla doesn’t take his material far enough. We soon know the basic ‘story’, so that by the time we reach Ba’s chapters at the end of the novel, we already know what has happened and there aren’t any big reveals. I was left with the impression that there are some fascinating and memorable characters in this novel, and it’s a heart-wrenching story, but I didn’t feel it as much as I would have expected.
The One Who Wrote Destiny is published on 5th April 2018 by Atlantic Books