The novel is broken into two narrative arcs joined by blood. The major storyline is set in Punjab, 1929. The protagonist is 15-year-old Mehar. Mehar and two other women are all married to three brothers in one single ceremony. The intriguing part is that none of the women know which of the brothers is their husband. Mehar never sees her husband, working in the fields through the day, and at night he remains an elusive silhouette. When she does see him briefly through the day, her veil adds to his concealment.
The second shorter storyline takes place in 1999 and revolves around an 18-year-old narrator who is a heroin addict. He leaves his home in England and travels to the very farm where the first storyline takes place, and we learn that Mehar is his great-grandmother. He has moved to this farm in Punjab to break his addiction, before moving back to England to attend university.
Then there is the “china room” which gives the novel it’s title. It exists in both arcs as well. In the main storyline it is where the sisters-in-law live. In the other, seventy years later, it is an abandoned wreck used to provide rumors about Mehar and why there are bars on the window.
Both storylines are interesting and compliment each other. The first, being Punjab and 1929, explores themes of religion and caste. The terrible treatment of the women, who are essentially slaves in almost every facet of their lives, including sex. The birth of a son paramount to the patriarchal mother “Mai”.
The second deals with displacement, isolation and racism, with the narrator digging into memories from his past.
Both also contain love stories, one forbidden, one taboo, the seed for rampant rumors.
On the inside of the cover, it reads “Inspired in part by the author’s family history” This always adds an extra element to the narrative and has the reader pondering how much is fact and how much is fiction.
It is also beautifully written,
“He stands in the empty courtyard: above him the stars are bright and stitched into the day’s dark dress”.
Wonderful sentences such as this weave their way throughout the entire novel.
A very rewarding and enjoyable read.
Sunjeev Sahota is a British novelist. Sahota was born in 1981 in Derby, and his family moved to Chesterfield when he was seven years old. His paternal grandparents had emigrated to Britain from the Punjab in 1966. After finishing school, Sahota studied mathematics at Imperial College London. As of January 2011, he was working in marketing for the insurance company Aviva.
Sahota had not read a novel until he was 18 years old, when he read Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children while visiting relatives in India before starting university. After Midnight's Children, Sahota went on to read The God of Small Things, A Suitable Boy and The Remains of the Day. In an interview in January 2011, he stated:
It was like I was making up for lost time – not that I had to catch up, but it was as though I couldn't quite believe this world of storytelling I had found and I wanted to get as much of it down me as I possibly could.
In 2013 he was included in the Granta list of 20 best young British writers.
Sahota's first novel, Ours are the Streets, was published in January 2011 by Picador. He wrote the book in the evenings and at weekends because of his day job. The novel tells the story of a British Pakistani youth who becomes a suicide bomber. His second novel, The Year of the Runaways, about the experience of illegal immigrants in Britain, was published in June 2015.