Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Book Review: Quarantine by Rahul Mehta

On the jacket:

Last week during one of our marathon telephone conversations my mother asked me which one of us, me or Frank, was the woman in our relationship. ‘Neither of us, obviously,’ I said. ‘That’s what makes us gay.’ ‘Very funny,’ my mom said. ‘Someone on Oprah said that often gay couples have one person who plays the man and the other who plays the woman. So I was wondering which you were.’ ‘Frank and I don’t believe in hetero-normative gender roles,’ I told her. I knew my mom didn’t know what ‘hetero-normative’ meant, so I figured she’d drop it. ‘So who does the cooking and cleaning?’ she asked. I could have truthfully answered ‘neither of us.’ Instead I asked, ‘Is that what you think womanhood is, Mom, cooking and cleaning?’ 

Rahul Mehta’s stories are inhabited by young, gay Indian men on the wrong side of the American dream: adrift in the world, in complicated relationships, and with uncertain futures. Here are lovers who go to a nightclub deciding to cheat on each other; a couple slowly breaking up while they holiday; a young man who can’t stop himself from burning up all his money; another who reluctantly prepares his grandmother for her US citizenship test. 

In a voice that’s bare and wry, edgy and tender, Rahul Mehta writes of desire and family ties with rare candor. This is an outstanding debut.


I have a read a bit of gay fiction in the past, but they have all left me depressed and distressed over how life is different for people, just because their sexual orientation is different than most. Quarantine had a different flavour to it, altogether. 

Snapshots of lives of gay couples, while they travel, meet family, weave their ways through life. A quick read, all the short-stories are minimalist, pages taken out of lives of people being spoken about. I personally love short-stories, they say volumes in a few pages. Mehta has achieved that with subtle ease, I am curious how his full length novels would turn out to be. A strong Indian angle in the stories, the first generation Indian-American is the protagonist and the stories are peppered with awkward incidents with his gay partners.

A fresh read, very well-written, with crisp editing, Quarantine deals with coming out, cultural differences, AIDS etc., along with a longing for connection. At times, the stories feel autobiographical. Some parts broke my heart to a million pieces, while some, like the first story, where the protagonist says he touches his grandfather's feet only not to hurt his own father whom he loves; was something I could identify with. Being Indian, we all are cordial to a set of relatives, only because our parents except us to.

All in all, I would recommend this read.

Rating: ****/5

[This review is for Random House India. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.] 

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