Thoughts on “Rivers Run Back”

Rivers Run Back is my recent read. It’s a “cross cultural saga of love, crime and intertwined destinies”. The book is an engrossing read since the beginning. I immediately got hooked onto the lives of Marilyn, Shankar and Narsimha. I love the subtlety with which each character along with their follies, vices and special traits are introduced.

The novel moves between time and spaces taking you from Kerala to Allahabad to Dubai to Bombay to New York and Vancouver. All the cities are described in their authenticity and the way the narrative moves between cities keeps you hooked. The way each chapter is laid out leaves no room for confusion about what’s happening where and when.

The story has some beautifully etched out characters. Some characters don’t go beyond a few chapters and hats off to the two writers who sketch the characters beautifully and let us know their  inner mechanics even if they be present only for a few chapters.

I loved the duality expressed through the characters of Padma and Leela. I still wish to hear some more about them (May be a sequel could be in making 😉 ) Padma and Leela make for the two ends of a pole or as the novel suggests two poles of the same magnet. One is calm like the water of Ganges flowing through towns, the other is turbulent like Bhagirathi emerging at Gangotri.

Then there’s the various underlying themes in the novel. For instance the repeated reference to making up stories or storytelling. Victor makes up stories about people he and Marilyn encounter at the beach, then Marilyn makes up stories about people she and her daughters encounter in the train to Carol’s house. The fathers in the story too bond with their children through stories. Uttam babu tells stories to young Shankar and one can easily detect the bond they both share. Again Shankar tells stories to Padma and Leela and the camaraderie is evident. But this bond is absent in case of Narsimha who has been brought up in an abusive home away from her mother and an unknown father.

Shankar and Marilyn represent the two worlds – Eastern and Western to some extent. While Marilyn needs the east to collect her fragmented self, Shankar needs the west to sustain his philosophical self. However, the characters all need to return to east in the end to derive a resolution.

The novel also emphasizes on the effect one’s surrounding and upbringing has on an individual. Marilyn is largely affected by her mother’s clinical attitude towards her. Her daughters develop distinct personalities which are somewhere affected by Marilyn’s depression. Narsimha becomes a calculated murderer because of the abuse he gets from his grand parents. Towards the end he himself wonders if he could have been a different person if brought up in a loving environment. But like Faustus he doesn’t spare a thought to remorse until it is too late.

The setting in Allahabad is another clever device used in the novel. Allahabad is known for it’s confluence of three rivers – Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati. Saraswati is a mythic river which is said to be running under the earth at the place. But one can easily see Ganga and Yamuna joining each other’s current and delivering the wisdom of two worlds. The novel’s action starts in Allahabad and in a way the culmination too begins at Allahabad. It’s symbolic of the coming together of the two worlds – Eastern and Western, Rationality and Emotional. Padma and Leela who are literally products of  the two worlds also find peace and regain their purpose at Allahabad.

A word about the women in the novel. The women in the novel are strongly characterized. They are strong headed, clear about their path, even Marilyn who depends upon Shankar for emotional anchor has a distinct personality which shines despite her haze and depression. Gargi, Shankar’s mother, is another strong character who has her priorities set in place and knows what she must do in order to abide by her principles even if it means disowning her only son. Tulasi who is present only in the initial chapters is another resolute woman who is not afraid to break the sexual boundaries and caste taboos what may be the consequences. Padma and Leela represent modern women around the world who are trying to push through the boundaries and establish new benchmarks.

The novel in a subtle way also lays bare certain evils of the society like the caste taboos in India, flesh trade and the inhuman condition of living for women trapped in these trades, the class boundaries and what  it might cost for poverty stricken people to survive in a world which is particular about money.

The book is co-authored by Joyce Yarrow who is a Pushcart Prize Nominee and has written crime novels before and Arindam Roy who has had a career in journalism spanning 33 years.

It took me some time to finish the novel, but it’s definitely a novel to be read in one go. The print is good, page quality good (if you buy the original version and not a pirated copy.

Here’s the link to buy the book on Amazon.

And that’s me with the book 😉

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