Friday, 27 July 2018

The One Who Wrote Destiny by Nikesh Shukla

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought of it:
I first came across Nikesh Shukla in a yurt on the banks of the River Thames. It was Refugee Week 2011, and I had come to hear members of the Write to Life group from Freedom from Torture perform their poetry. Shukla was there to read from his debut novel, Coconut Unlimited. The reading, which was very funny, stuck with me because Shukla’s description of hearing his grandmother speaking Gujarati peppered with modern English words like ‘television’ was exactly like my memories of hearing my grandmother speaking Welsh. I bought the book the next day.

A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then, and The One Who Wrote Destiny is a very different book to Coconut Unlimited. This is one of several books I have read recently where the narrative passes from one hand to another. It begins with a father, Mukesh, retelling – as we later found out – a story he has repeated s often it has driven his children mad. It’s the story of how he met their mother, at Diwali, and how together they fought off racists trying to stop the celebrations. 

It then passes to the daughter, Neha – mathematician, programmer, obsessed with numbers and patterns. She shares the fatal genetic flaw that killed her mother before she really had time to get to know her. And now, dying herself, she is trying to find out if she can predict the destinies of the rest of the family.

From Neha it passes to her twin brother Raks – a stand-up comedian who needs to please, returning to Kenya to trace the grandmother he and his sister stayed with only once.

And finally to Ba, the grandmother, dealing with two small children who are foisted upon her when all she wants is to be left alone to mourn.

Each of the characters has their own take on what destiny means – whether it be written in our DNA or our stars. But for me, at least, the book is about coming to terms with death, whether our own or that of a loved one. And the recognition that the final step is one that one must always take on one’s own

Almost incidentally, the narrative also traces the paths of British immigrants (especially Kenyan Asians) and their descendents, showing how their experience alters (and doesn’t) over time, and the tensions that creates between generations. (Being made complicit in the telling of a racist joke may be a small thing compared with being beaten to death in the streets, but it still shows what a long way this country has to go.)

There were snippets of the narrative that I recognised, either from having read The Good Immigrant, which was edited by Shukla, or from following him on Twitter, which made it feel a little like reading a book by an friend whose back stories I was privy to.

A moving and reflective novel from an author who has done more than anyone else in the last few years to change the landscape for BAME authors in Britain.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Birdie by Tracey Lindberg, If You Look For Me I am Not Here by Sarayu Srivatsa, The Good Immigrant (ed Nikesh Shukla)

Avoid If You Dislike: narratives about death and dying

Perfect Accompaniment: Mango and sugar rotli

Genre: Literary Fiction

Available on Amazon

Nikesh Shukla is the editor of The Good Immigrant, co-founder of the Jhalak Prize and founder of The Good Literary Agency

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