Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Sister Reads| The Sea of Innocence by Kishwar Desai

Book: The Sea of Innocence

Author: Kishwar Desai

No of pages: 358

Plot Summary:  
A missing girl, a death in paradise, and a race against time to uncover the truth. The thrilling new adventure starring Simran Singh.

Goa, India. A beautiful holiday hideaway where hippies and backpackers while away the hours. But beneath the clear blue skies lies a dirty secret…

Simran Singh is desperate for a break and some time away from her busy job as a social worker-cum-crime investigator. And so the unspoilt idyll of Goa seems just the place - white beaches, blue seas and no crime.
But when a disturbing video appears on her phone, featuring a young girl being attacked by a group of men, she realises that a darkness festers at the heart of this supposed paradise. And when she discovers out that the girl is Liza Kay, a British teenager who has gone missing, she knows she must act in order to save her.
But first Simran must break through the web of lies and dark connections that flourish on these beaches. 

Everyone, it seems, knows what has happened to the girl but no one is prepared to say. And when more videos appear, and Simran herself is targeted in order to keep her quiet, the paradise soon becomes a living nightmare.

General Thoughts: We picked up The Sea of Innocence because I had read and enjoyed Kishwar Desai’s Witness the Night a few years back. Witness the Night, with its themes of patriarchy, abuse, corruption and such, made for a gripping and intense read. So, when we saw a new book by Desai, we were tempted to pick it up.

As the plot summary says, the book is based in Goa or rather, as the author struggles to differentiate (rather pointlessly, in my opinion) ‘the beaches of Goa’ (filled with sex, drugs, foreigners and all that bad stuff) and ‘the real Goa’ (which, according to Desai, is full of temples, churches, mosques and all the good things in life). So, set against this lurid backdrop of sex, drugs and (almost- well, Bob Dylan’s music is referenced in a few places) rock n’ roll, our story unfolds.

Journo-cum- crime-investigator, Simran Singh and her daughter, are vacationing in Goa, when Simran’s ex-boyfriend, a cop in Delhi, sends her a video of a young British girl being filmed whilst being gang-raped by four “beach boys” (who according to Desai are the Indian, scratch that, Goan boys, who work in the various shacks and restaurants on the beach). Disgusted and intrigued, Simran sets off on a crazy journey to unearth who this girl is and what has become of her.

What I Liked: The first half of the book is very gripping. The story unfolds fast and we are handed a series of clues in rapid succession. We learn that the young girl is called Liza Kay and she lived in one of the many beach-proximity Guest Houses in Anjuna. We also learn, via more videos from an anonymous sender, about other things that have happened to young Liza. Simran is quick to jump on clues and make connections and so, the first half of the book is nice and pacy.

I also enjoyed the cast of characters who formed a part of “the beach” version of Goa- from the “beach boys” to seemingly harmless multi-lingual women peddling henna-tattoos-and-silver-jewellery to bigger fish with bigger agendas. It is clear that Desai has done a decent amount of research, or, at any rate, been to Goa several times whilst writing this book.

What I Didn’t Like: I did not like how this book has taken advantage of the brutal, tragic, horrifying and heart-breakingly devastating gang rape of a young woman in a bus in Delhi. Known to most Indians as the ‘Nirbhaya Case’, in terms of timeline, the events in this book happen parallelly to Nirbhaya’s rape and her struggle to live right after it. The book does not go into great details about Nirbhaya’s case, but the whole incident seems to play an ominous sort of context to the plot. Also, the book seems to be a little too “inspired” by the tragic Scarlett Keeling rape and murder from 2008. Scarlett is referenced multiple times- in fact, the author dedicates the book to Jyoti (Nirbhaya) and Scarlett and other girls like them.

To clarify, I have nothing against anyone dedicating a book to two young women whose lives were tragically cut short by gruesome sexual acts. What bothered me was how these two incidents were referenced time and again in an attempt to bolster the thinner-than-distilled-water plot line.

Speaking of which, after a very promising start, the book veers off course and tries to valiantly inject more complications into the storyline. These include hippies, drugs, gambling, politics and such like. These bits seem so haphazard and very poorly written. It was obvious that the author was out of her depth while writing these bits and there is ain’t nothing sadder than that.

Would you like it?: I would recommend Witness the Night if you want to read a good book by Kishwar Desai and reading the Wikileaks reports on what most likely happened to Scarlett if you want to know the nexus of sex and drugs and mafia in Goa.

Rating: 2/5

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