18 Mar / Half Life by Roopa Farooki
I don’t know why the galley’s back cover touts “shades of Slumdog Millionaire and The Namesake” because this book has no overlaps with either of those titles, much less their authors, or even locations! Really, not all brown people look alike – authors or their characters! Slumdog (based on the even-better than-film book Q&A) is a Mumbai story by an Indian diplomat now based in South Africa. Namesake (with the film version better than the original book) is about an immigrant Indian family and their American-born son by a Brooklyn-based Indian American.
And don’t even get me started on the cover – it represents no one in the book, much less any situation within the book’s pages!
All that superfluous stuff aside, once you get about 30 pages or so into Half Life to familiarize yourself with the three alternating voices, you’ll probably not be able to put it down. Roopa Farooki, a Pakistani-born, London-reared, Oxford-educated, southeast UK/southwest France-domiciled author of three previous novels, follows a pair of lost lovers and a father from London to Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, with memory stops throughout the South Asian subcontinent.
“It’s time to stop fighting, and go home,” Aruna reads in a poetry collection one morning partway through breakfast in her London flat. And that’s exactly what she does. With only her purse and passport in hand – at least she changed out of her sleepwear – she leaves her house keys, her too-adoring doctor husband of a year who has already left for work, and their London flat that was never a home. She heads to Heathrow in a daze and boards a plane to Singapore. On the other side awaits her past – Jazz, her childhood best friend and lover since adolescence, the first person she left without a word. Meanwhile, in a Kuala Lumpur hospital, Jazz’s elderly father Hassan desperately awaits his son’s forgiveness for untold secrets so he can finally be free of his painful life.
Together, Aruna and Jazz must figure out who they are, especially who they are to each other. While she’s managed to wean herself from the harder drugs, Aruna’s addictive habits keep her not quite balancing on the right side of alcoholic smoker and sex addict; self-medication is clearly not working. Jazz has shut down his own heart, squandering his literary talents and churning out one exotic-setting, happy-ending romance after another. His father, a lauded poet, is fighting his failing body, hoping to stay alive just long enough to tell his son the truth of his relationship with his son’s late mother. With so many swirling secrets, you’ll probably guess one or two along the way … but don’t get too comfortable, because Farooki is very adept at turning your expectations upside down yet again …
Half Life debuts in May, so hopefully the galley’s back page at the very least proves to be just a temporary marker and the publishing-powers will realize Farooki’s original work can very-well-thank-you-very-much stand all on its own.