This debut novel transforms a story of an innocent friendship into a commentary on caste and bigotry - ToP NewS

This debut novel transforms a story of an innocent friendship into a commentary on caste and bigotry

I came upon Priya Balasubramanian’s The Alchemy of Secrets quite by accident when I was in New Delhi earlier this year. It was on a high stack of books that my brother had set aside with the intention of reading and reviewing. The bright red, black and white of the cover caught my eye, but it lingered for another reason: Priya was a fellow writer from California who had also spent her childhood in India.

I was on a bi-annual trip home, and the peaceful sit-in protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act at Shaheen Bagh was on everyone’s mind. Conversations with friends were about the rising intolerance of political powerheads and religious fundamentalists in the country and police intervention against students in Jamia Milia University. The blurb on the cover of The Alchemy of Secrets alluded to a narrative about “ripples of religious fervour” and the “tragic consequences” of the lives it touched. It was also a story of “returning home.” I set the book aside to read.

A matter of perspectives

The Alchemy of Secrets begins with a reflection, as memories of a late evening in Bangalore, 1979, form in the main character Mira’s head. Her Ajji, her grandmother, has stopped to buy flowers on their way back home from a visit to...

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