China Room by Sunjeev Sahota

Published: 2021 1. First lines. 2. Cover: Penguin 3. House of Sand [Public Domain via Pixahive 4. Woman [Public Domain] via Pxhere

In 1929 Punjab, Mehar is betrothed to an unknown man who marries her at the same time as his two brothers marry. The wives do not know which brother they have married because cultural practices mean that they live apart, meeting only in the dark of the china room, or are completely covered when outside. Mehar thinks she has figured it out, and they find themselves in a dangerous situation. Another thread to the story takes place in 1999 when a young man arrives at the same village (his ancestral home) from England to recover from an addiction.

“They live in the china room …”

BOOKSNAPS: “This is an intriguing story, with the story of Mehar being quite suspenseful, particularly towards the end. The parallel story of the young man returning to India is more quietly told and shares similar themes with Mehar’s story – belonging and unbelonging. The writing details a wonderful sense of place.”

  • The Guardian: “An alienated youth travels to remote rural India, where his great-grandmother lived in 1929, in Sahota’s hushed and subtle third novel.”
  • Kirkus: “A beautifully written but narratively limited family saga.”
  • Hindustani Times: “China Room is vividly written, in precise chapters, which sometimes constitute just a page, and economical sentences. Sahota excels at portraying the psychological and the sensual, and infusing the novel with an atmospheric flavour, especially towards the end when the sense of doom deepens.”
  • The Canberra Times: “Descriptions are wonderful. Daily household activities are fascinating and word pictures of the Punjabi countryside are gorgeous – colour-washed days, starry nights, nocturnal animals rustling and scampering, even the headlamps of the builders of the Krishna statue look like fireflies as they work through the night.”

Quotes:


“They live in the china room, which sits at a slight remove from the house and is named for the old willow-pattern plates that lean on a high stone shelf, a set of six that arrived with Mai years ago as part of her wedding dowry. Far beneath the shelf, at waist level, runs a concrete slab that the women use for preparing food, and under this is a little mud-oven. The end of the room widens enough for a pair of charpoys to be laid perpendicular to each other and across these two string beds all three women are made to sleep.

“Not all prisons have bars. And not all love is a prison.”


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