About this book
This fantastical historical novel, narrated by a child yet to be born, traces the lives of three generations of a Parsi family in India from the late 1800s to present day. The narrative follows the family from the intricacies of village life in the jungles of central India to the complications of urban life in turbulent pre- and post-independence struggles to contemporary diasporic realities in the United Kingdom and North America.
The novel begins in 1899 with the birth of a boy named Jamshed to a rural Parsi family in central India. As he comes of age, Jamshed feels he is faced with the choice between spirituality and materiality: he has the opportunity to train to become a Parsi priest, or may follow family connections to a business opportunity as a distillery manager. Jamshed, who will become the family patriarch as a result of his choice, quickly becomes obsessed with the question of free will, and he passes on this obsession to his descendants. His preoccupations, however, are complicated by frequent, often disturbing, visitations by his as-yet-unborn grandchildren, who may or may not come into existence based on the choices he makes. After much soul-searching (and fantastical communications), Jamshed decides to take on the management of the distillery where he discovers the almost-magical properties of its main product, a much sought-after rum called Asha. This curious liquor becomes a leit-motif, reappearing in various forms and incarnations throughout the generations of the family.
This beautifully told, engaging novel, by the author of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize finalist The Short, Happy Life of Harry Kumar, humanizes the politics of ethnicity, culture, and colonial rule.
Ashok Mathur has always exhibited a peculiar genius for re-imagining what fiction can represent and make us feel, but never before on such a grand
scale. A Little Distillery in Nowgong
is about the riddle of genealogy and the past's hydraulic drag upon the present. It is an elaborate portrayal of a family's closeness and disconnection strung out over time and space. Most compellingly, it is a novel about novel writing itself, and a subtle reflection upon that essential and difficult question: how do we tell the stories that matter to us most?
David Chariandy, author of Soucouyant
A heady blend of subtle, tricksterish wit and trenchant social commentary.
Nalo Hopkinson, author of The Salt Roads
Pure delight.... having recently read Arvind Agoda’s Booker Prize-winning novel, The White
, I have to say that while it’s an amusing satire of contemporary Indian life, in my opinion A Little Distillery in Nowgong
better written and a more perceptive book. That B.C. publishers continue to publish fiction of this
calibre, when the brutal economics of the trade and the hostility of government suggest they’d all be better off just publishing cookbooks and self-help manuals, is something we should
all be grateful for.
An engaging read.
I really enjoyed this book, following three generations of the headstrong and intelligent Khargats. The voice of Sunny ties it all together; he is the glue that holds the Khargats together and offers sound advice during difficult times. This is the story about what it means to be a family.
The Book Chick
One of the finest novels of the year. A Little Distillery in Nowgong
is a welter of contradictions: It is at once a sweeping historical epic, spanning 100 years and three continents, and an intimate, character-based story. It is gritty and realistic while embracing a graceful magic; it is emotionally resonant and very often hilarious.... A Little Distillery
is note-perfect, a compulsively readable work that unfolds naturally but surprises at every turn. I'm so glad I didn't miss it, and you shouldn't, either.
This is a compulsively readable work that unfolds naturally but surprises at every turn.
Robert Wiersma, The National Post
A brilliant and gripping tale.
The novel maintains a sense of whimsy that builds into an unpredictable finish.... As a storyteller, what Mathur tells us is that the vectors of personal identity—gender, faith, ethnicity, nationality—may be in constant flux, but do not disrupt powerful familial connections that sustain the passage of time.