So Good in Black
published 2011 • 5 ½” x 7 ¾” • 372 pages
ISBN 9781566568531 • paperback • $18.00 •
"Acclaimed writer Gupta ... creates a tale as sumptuous as a tropical jungle with its dark mysteries and ripe undercurrents of lust and danger."
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A superbly crafted novel from award-winning Indian novelist Sunetra Gupta
“Sunetra Gupta’s work is genuinely challenging, rare and enriching... The creator of a prose which is capable of the subtlest artistic resonance, she deserves the depth of response we accord to the very best of writers.”
After years of absence, American travel writer Max Gate returns to Bengal, to the beach home of his longtime friend, the businessman Byron Mallick. The occasion is a funeral: for Damini, fervent investigative journalist and founder of a women’s shelter, with whom Max once collaborated, until ultimately she scorned the book he wrote on their work together. It is irrefutable that Byron Mallick donated not milk, but milk adulterated with chalk, to the women and children at Damini’s shelter—but did he also, to save his reputation, have her killed? The weight of this question burdens each character in this intricate, superbly crafted novel—Max; his former brother-in-law Piers O’Reilly, convinced of Byron’s guilt; and Damini’s cousin and Byron’s former ward Ela, whose affair with Max has haunted both their lives, ending his marriage and setting him unaccountably adrift. Sunetra Gupta’s consummate prose recreates the ache and complication of memory, as Max considers the tantalizing ambiguities of each of their pasts, the exquisite layers of emotion and action out of which, perhaps, the truth about Byron may be revealed.
Sunetra Gupta’s previous four novels have been awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award, the Southern Arts Literature Prize, shortlisted for the Crossword Award, and long listed for the Orange Prize. Sunetra was born in Calcutta and now lives in Oxford, where she is a professor of theoretical epidemiology at Oxford University.
"American travel writer Max Gate returns to the lavish Bengal seaside house of his old friend Byron Mallick on the eve of a funeral, in Gupta's languid rumination on love and opportunities lost, her first novel since 'A Sin of Color'... shifting fluidly from the present to various events in Max's past... Gupta's nonlinear plot is as twisted as the relationships between her characters, and while the pacing sometimes drags, the landscapes dazzle."
"Professor and novelist Gupta’s latest work... is a poetic journey of discovery. Each page slowly and elegantly reveals the history leading up to American travel writer Max Gate’s return to Bengal, India, where he attends a funeral and reunites with old acquaintances... Reminiscent of the movie Memento, minus the amnesia, this novel requires readers to fit together the pieces of the past and present to discover the bigger picture behind Gupta’s story, her characters, their pseudoaristocratic lifestyles in both London and India, and their relationships with one another. ...this is an effortless read. "
"Sunetra Gupta writes of ambiguities brilliantly. Her language swoops from evocative reconstruction of memories and landscapes to sharply focused depictions of social encounters. She is as much at ease describing the seashore and gardens of Bengal or the streets of Kolkata as she is describing Christmas in a country house in Ireland. She also layers events so they reflect on one another. ...Max’s nostalgia fuels this novel. He looks back to his past, when he was more hopeful, more innocent, more capable of infatuation, admiration and love. Doors opened for him. At the end of the novel, doors are closing, the mood is sad as Sunetra Gupta’s meditation on loss and evil draws to a close. Long after the last page has been conned and the book set aside, readers will continue to reflect on this meditative and often fascinating work."
—Claire Hopley, Washington Times
"A lucid and mesmerizing masterpiece... This is an exquisite, mournful novel that focuses on the intersection of memory and reality to reveal how, and how often, we deceive ourselves."
"Although a decade has passed since Sunetra Gupta's last novel, this lucid and mesmerizing masterpiece shows she has used every minute of that time wisely. Gupta uses a disjointed narrative to mimic the random recall of memory, something she accomplishes with superb skill and manifests through highly stylized, minimalist prose and distilled pieces of dialogue. ...rich and evocative...lush...a full and textured tapestry...an exquisite, mournful novel..."
"Basking in the language of this book is like having honey poured over you. But Gupta can also deliver a blow that keeps her narrative from veering into the overwritten. There is a disquieting intensity beneath the novel's calm surface, just as Max's love for Ela and his attempts to escape from it-‘I cannot spend what is left of life to me in perennial heartache'-throb beneath everything else he does, including his attempts to ascertain Mallick's guilt or innocence."
—Women's Review of Books
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