China Room

Viking. Jul. 2021. 256p. ISBN 9780593298145. $27. F
In a small Punjab village in 1929, three young women are married to three brothers in a group ceremony. The women do not know which of the brothers is their husband; they spend their days working in a small “china room” in the family’s estate and are veiled during any encounters with the men. The youngest, 15-year-old Mehar, is also the most curious. She determines that handsome Suraj, the middle brother, must be her husband. By the time Mehar learns that he is not, they are in a passionate relationship that threatens to destroy their lives if they are discovered. Seventy years later, the British-born son of an Indian immigrant arrives at his uncle’s home in the same village, hoping to kick his heroin addiction. He decamps to an abandoned house, where he’s drawn to a mysterious prison-like room where his great-grandmother was sequestered as a young woman. As he and two friends restore the dilapidated house, his thoughts about identity, family, and love are a source of healing.
VERDICT In descriptive but never flowery prose, Sahota (The Year of the Runaways) intersects the two stories in clever and unexpected ways, reminding readers how they are connected to those who came before. Readers of literary historical fiction will enjoy this powerful, evocative novel.
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