A gripping narrative, keeps you hooked

Book: The City and The Sea

Author: Raj Kamal Jha

Publisher: Penguin Hamish Hamilton

Pages: 267; Price: Rs 499

Raj Kamal Jha, Chief Editor of The Indian Express is back with his latest novel, The City and The Sea. Through this novel, Jha focuses his lens on the depravity and devastation of our times. One can feel as if he is diving into utter darkness. In today’s world of competition where each one of us is fighting to find our place, the topic of female safety, both public and private places, needs to be a top priority. The genre that is considered to be the voice of the oppressed or victims of evil crimes against them. It can also be an eyeopener for most of us, catching our attention to what we would rather not see.

The City and the Sea is a story of the children within us, whose only defence against the unexplained horrors of the dark is darkness itself. Each character cuts open our flesh, crushes the yellow-white bare bones of masculinity and proves that it is violence that integrates everything we celebrate as urban.

The protagonist of Jha's work is a boy, unnamed, who returns from school one day and finds his mother, an Editor in a newspaper, missing. There are two strands to the novel within which the story keeps revolving: The city and the sea. While the city section speaks about the search of the boy for his mother, in the sea section, the mother, abused and a victim of the most heinous crime, lies in coma in a hospital, where her mind creates stories of a vacation at a resort in the Baltic. In between the sections, Jha introduces Herta Müller, the German novelist and the winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize of Literature in the novel as a hotel receptionist, does nothing remarkable other than handing over a map of the German town by the sea to the new boarders who have come to vacation.

In fact, the novel is actually about writing unsaid things. After the first 50 or so pages, a certain monotony starts to set in. However, as we read further, our mind is certain to bring back the memories of the 2012 Delhi rape case. In fact the case is the main crux of the novel. Let’s not get ourselves confused. The boy’s mother is not Nirbhaya. However, the mother resembled Nirbhaya just enough to generate imaginative resistance. 

As Jha continues further, it is clear that he chose to detail the impact and not the event. However, throughout the book, he has been successful in highlighting what Müller said in her Nobel acceptance speech: ‘What can’t be said can be written, because writing is a silent act.’ This is indeed a novel of silences. With the characters — the boy, his father, mother — the environment created with the crowd, the loneliness, the loud noises and it is indeed a journey through binaries. Jha’s writing is a courageous attempt worthy of appreciation.