If You Are Afraid of Heights
Raj Kamal Jha
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Buy *If You Are Afraid of Heights* online

If You Are Afraid of Heights

Raj Kamal Jha
Harcourt
Hardcover
304 pages
September 2004
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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This is a complex novel of contemporary India by an author who stares unabashedly into the human heart, past the facades into the place where dreams reside and fears bloom like dark flowers. In a series of linked tales, each attached by thin strands of familiarity, the characters are as changeable as their desires, although their daily lives are immutable. In simple language, the author relates three stories, but cautions us to wait, more will be revealed. The reader must trust the author, suspending belief and judgment.

After an accident, a man and woman meet when she comes to his aid, taking him into her home and tending to his injuries. Falling in love with his beautiful rescuer, the man sleeps deeply - dreamlessly at first, later assaulted by vivid images that suggest unfinished business.

In the second tale, a woman reporter searches for information about a young girl whose brutally murdered body is found floating in the canal behind her poverty-riddled town. What the reporter discovers mingles with vivid memories of her own past as she opens her mind to all that surrounds her, the desperate need, the common practice of moral accommodation and the recognition of shattered innocence.

In the third part, a young girl in a red dress, worried that her parents might consider suicide in desperation over their lives, struggles to fit a larger understanding into the smaller world she inhabits. Daily tedium is played out against a harsh background of nature's excesses, but a paucity of even the smallest luxury suggests the ongoing struggle to meet the demands of each new day. Perhaps it is the incessant rain that so perfectly captures these people, reflecting them back into the world, distorted by their own hidden desires.

Everything is in constant motion, churning with ambition and the struggle for survival; but the female presents a powerful image, whether viewed through an elegant womanís ethereal beauty, a mother's anxious hovering, a reporterís refusal to relinquish the dogged search for clues or the fleeting innocence of a young girl on the cusp of womanhood. Men are authority figures, distant and frequently intimidating. Childhood is dangerous, but coveted.

With an omniscient eye, Raj Kamal Jha peers into the teeming mass of humanity, carefully positioning his characters to tell their stories, the complicated emotional layers of lives intersecting, merging and moving on. There are hard lessons on the difficulties of survival and the protection of innocence as memory mixes flawlessly with reality in this cautionary tale. Beneath the fear, pain and desperation of an indifferent fate, is a calming murmur of understanding, a familiar touch, sweet comfort.

Click here for Luan Gaines' interview with If You Are Afraid of Heights author Raj Kamal Jha

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Luan Gaines, 2004

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