A State of Freedom by Neel Mukherjee [in Library Journal]
The five “narrative parts” of this work, designated only with Roman numerals, comprise five styles: short story; first-person, faux memoir; folktale of sorts; 10-parts-plus-epilogue novella; and no-punctuation vignette. The connections require attention, with results well worth the reader’s intriguing participation.
An Indian American professor’s tragedy-ensuing pilgrimage with his six-year-old son to iconic Indian landmarks amid hordes of destitute locals confirms “the plush West had made him skinless like a good, sheltered first-world liberal.” A London-based writer visits his parents in Mumbai and develops a relationship with the family’s cook that challenges employer/employee boundaries. A bear cub is brutally trained to perform by his desperate owner. Two childhood village friends experience diverging adulthoods. A disjointed voice confronts impending death.
Man Booker Prize shortlisted Neel Mukherjee (for The Lives of Others) gathers a cast of untethered characters to present urgent, even beseeching, testimony on how the titular “state of freedom” is too often more impossible dream than achievable reality. A book’s end Q&A with Hanya Yanagihara reveals Mukherjee’s intent that Freedom be “an homage, a conversation” with V.S. Naipaul’s In a Free State; familiarity with that work is unnecessary to be awed.
Verdict: Libraries with internationally savvy audiences should prepare for substantial demand.