Review: The City Son by Samrat Upadhyay

Oindrila Mukherjee reviews the novel in LARB

citysonThe gifted Nepalese writer Samrat Upadhyay writes in English about ordinary, mostly middle class characters in his homeland, and their struggles against economic hardship and entrenched social customs. His latest novel,The City Son, explores dichotomies already familiar to readers of his work: he sets the city — always Kathmandu — against the village, and men against women. His female characters are, again, particularly vulnerable, as they are forced into arranged marriages and later abandoned by their husbands, who fall in love with other women. In this case, the rural, female protagonist ofThe City Son refuses to accept her fate, and fights back in a manner that challenges not only social norms, but also what we’ve come to expect in a South Asian female character, period. Upadhyay’s Didi is a victim who becomes a predatory villain, yet she remains a deeply tragic, near mythic figure, whose actions lead to no happiness, least of all for herself.

A heavy woman with “a regrettable face” and a voracious sexual appetite, Didi lives in a village with her two young sons while her husband, the Masterji, lives in Kathmandu where he teaches math — their marriage was a financial arrangement in which Masterji benefited. As the novel opens, Didi learns that the Masterji has married an attractive young tutee, and they have a beautiful son. Didi promptly collects her own sons and moves to the city, into the Masterji’s modest apartment, and takes over the household. The Masterji and his second wife, Apsara, are too intimidated to resist.

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