There is Room for You
Charlotte Bacon
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There is Room for You

Charlotte Bacon
Farrar Straus & Giroux
256 pages
March 2004
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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What lingers in this reader’s mind about There is Room for You, the second novel by Charlotte Bacon, is an intriguing sense of India.

Although not the central character, the vast country, exotic and enticing, provides a powerful, seductive backdrop for this story about a daughter and her mother.

Rose, a British woman, was raised in Calcutta, but once she comes to America she does not talk about this past. She never revisits the country. Her children know nothing of her childhood.

After her father’s death in a car accident and her husband leaving her for a younger woman, Rose’s daughter, Anna, decides to embark on a spiritual quest to India to find out about this missing link of her maternal roots. Anna is a professional New Yorker, somewhat estranged from her mother. However, on the night before Anna flies to India, Rose gives her daughter a sheaf of papers, a type of journal of her youth in Calcutta. Amazed, Anna is even more drawn to this personal mission.

India is all Anna had hoped for and, of course, more. It dazzles her mind and all her senses. Although she has brought along various guidebooks as well as her mother’s unexpected gift, she feels completely unprepared. "It had been hard to choose reading. You could bring the Boston Public and it wouldn’t be enough to help you fathom India." There are music and brightly-colored clothes everywhere. In Agra, it is 110 degrees.

Anna especially enjoys watching people:

"I turned to watch Indian children - girls in taffeta, boys in miniature business suits - play games with the shadows the building threw, as if the heat were nothing more than a thin sheet to rush past. Their parents bent to reknot shoes or tighten a sash… Men in suits, women in saris, children holding umbrellas over grandparents’ heads. … Most of them moved with a thrifty grace, if not in tune with the sun, then accustomed to the limitations it imposed."
Anna tries to understand the limitations that exist in her relationship with her mother, who has always been "stingy with her love." As Anna reads Rose’s journal, she learns about her mother’s Hindu caretaker, or aya, and about the problems between the races at that time in Calcutta. Anna tries to reconcile that past India with the India she is experiencing.

Fortunately, the trip wins Anna wisdom and some degree of peace. She begins to understand her mother. In There is Room for You, the relationships are complex and true, and the atmosphere, especially of India, intoxicating. The country fascinates and scares me, as it did Anna and her mother before her. There is Room for You is an elegant, beautifully written novel about the ineffable bond between mothers and daughters and the powerful pull of place.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Deborah Straw, 2004

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