Roland Francis’ review appeared in Goanet.
The author Braz Menezes has his origins in Goa, a small but beautiful bump off the western coast of India. Situated on the Arabian Sea, Goa has beautiful ocean beaches and is now an international tourist destination.
But for much of 450 years, starting with the explorer and conqueror Vasco da Gama, and ending with an Indian Army invasion, it was a prized Portuguese possession, but a backwater nonetheless. Goans, traditionally simple, hospitable, educated and Catholic, became a diaspora people like the Jews of old, not out of persecution but economic necessity.
In the early and mid-20th century, the colonial service in East Africa where they served Britain faithfully and well, became their passport to a better future. Kenya, where half of the narration takes place, was a fairly recent British conquest and in the period of the book they had sufficiently established themselves as the governing power and were consolidating their administration and infrastructure.
This is a truth-based, but slightly fictionalized account of a Goan family told about sixty years later, with sensitivity, acuity and humour. It is sufficiently contemporary to hold general interest, but even if it were not so, Menezes’ easy style would sustain the reader throughout. He has great appreciation of the Kenyan lands, flora and fauna, and his descriptions of nature in Africa bespeak of an ecological passion.
He is a storyteller in the genre of Rohinton Mistry and Michael Ondaatje, first-generation award-winning immigrant writers in Canada. Told through the senses of eleven-year-old Lando, the freshness and detail of his descriptions throughout the book shine like embedded stones in the already bright necklace of its chapters. The sea voyages between Mombasa, Kenya and Mormugao, Goa, are occasions of keen observation of the foibles of the travelling circus around him. So also are the dynamics that drove Goan families to do things that were not always in harmony with the wishes of its members.
Though sadness is rare in the book and, when present, it’s not heavy or burdensome. Yet the young Lando’s troubles stalking him at every turn, make the reader pause and reflect on one’s own passages of life. The book can best be described as quiet excitement and is worth every minute the reader spends reading it. Although complete in itself, this first book will without a doubt cause one to look forward to the next in its trilogy and hope it is as good. No mean feat to overcome.