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Book Review: 'No Country'


From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. Kalyan Ray has been busy. The Bangladesh-born writer is also a translator and actor. That may be why 10 years have passed since his first novel was released. And reviewer Alan Cheuse is happy his second is now out.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: "No Country" is a rousing adventure made up out of the blood and guts and dreams of people on three continents and nearly 150 years of troubled history. It opens in 1989 with an upstate New York police chief going over in his mind the incidents of a particularly bloody double murder, diving deep to find a motive. Within pages we're back in the 1840s, in an impoverished Ireland. Two friends, Padraig Aherne and Brendan McCarthaigth, struggle against natural disaster and political repression and murder, forces that drive Padraig to escape justice by signing on to work in a ship that carries him to India. His pal Brendan, to avoid starvation, ships out to North America with his friend's out of wedlock child in tow. In India, over time, Padraig's descendants wrestled with questions of identity and politics and terror.

In the U.S., the children of Brendan's adopted daughter come to terms with the perils of love and work and the pleasures of a new home. "No Country" is a big book with many characters, though the individuals remain vivid even as destinies ebb and flow, bringing their descendants together toward the end. As the Irish-Indian grandfather of one of the American character's writes, "So many lands, so many variations on the same name." Kalyan Ray doesn't just think about these matters splashed across three continents, he sharply dramatized them, avoiding kitch and stock situations, embracing disparate stories to create an epic flow of tribute, celebration and commemoration, making a novel as easy to read as the latest bestseller, with a watermark that announces intelligence and fine prose at your fingertips.

As that letter from India continues, I think of how our families were spread over the Earth, how these names turn against each other, their languages having grown apart, their eyes only upon their own piece of land, jealous of others, fierce and grasping. I raised my eyes from the Earth and saw the expanse of the endless sea glittering and admonitory. It was of a color no map ever showed.

CORNISH: The words of Kalyan Ray. His new novel is "No Country." It was reviewed for us by Alan Cheuse. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alan Cheuse died on July 31, 2015. He had been in a car accident in California earlier in the month. He was 75. Listen to NPR Special Correspondent Susan Stamburg's retrospective on his life and career.
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