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Odysseus Abroad by Amit Chaudhuri

Odysseus Abroad: A novel - Amit Chaudhuri

Set in the mid 1980s, London, Ananda is a student who has little interest in his studies. Instead, he practices at being a poet. He and his Bengali uncle are occasionally visited by their relatives. In fact, Ananda’s mother recently left and her leaving has spiked his ever-present home sickness. This is the story of a day in Ananda’s life in which he spends it with his uncle Radhesh on their weekly rumble through London.

Ananda is a bit of a hopeless romantic when it comes to poetry. On one hand, he lives in this constant anxiety that his poetry will never amount to anything, will never be truly recognized, and, yet, on the other hand, he kind of revels in it. He lives in an apartment with several other noisy people. Mandy practices some sort of loud music at odd hours. The Patels have kids. Also, there’s a shared bathroom that creates the opportunity to run into people at the least opportune moments. I have the impression that he could live in a quieter place. He tends to revel a bit in his inner turmoil. He’s the poster child for the self-tortured poet.

Meanwhile, uncle Radhesh is the interesting one, at least, to me. For much of the book, he is referred to as Rangamama and I don’t know why. Perhaps I missed that. Perhaps it is some endearment. Anyway, I think of him as Rangamama in my head. He’s well off, at least enough to live without working in his early retirement and to help out various family members as well. He’s a bit fascinated with his gut, and all it’s functions. Also, he thinks he knows how to spot aliens and ghosts. He always wants to get the check and leave a fat tip, but he loves the dance of someone else offering to pay and the resultant back and forth. While sometimes a bit odd or noisy, Rangamama was also lovable. Everyone should have a quixotic uncle like him.

This tale was a bit like poetry and jazz – it exists for the simple enjoyment of being. There is no plot, no main reason for the tale. The story line doesn’t take you from Point A to Point B. There is no big epiphany or revelation. It simply is a day in the lives of these two men showing how they interact with each other and some of Ananda’s inner musings. Rangamama seems to muse out loud most of the time, much to my entertainment.

At first, I wanted there to be a plot, but once I realized there wasn’t one, I settled down and just enjoyed the story. There was a ton of poetry talk, nearly all of which went right over my head. I’m not really into poetry so I found the musings on poetry and poets somewhat boring. Also, this made it hard for me to connect with Ananda. I just couldn’t get into his plight, that of wanting to create beautiful poetry and have it appreciated.

On the other hand, the men talk about several other things. There were contemplations on skin color (and how perceptions on the subject have changed over the years), food, going to the bathroom (how come European heroes never need the toilet?), movies (James Bond 007), sex, love, prostitutes, bathroom jokes, etc. So there was always something right around the corner to amuse me. This book wasn’t my normal cup of tea, but I am glad I gave it a listen and experienced something new and memorable.

I received a copy of this book at no cost from the publisher (viaAudiobook Jukebox) in return for an honest review.

Narration: Alex Wyndham did a decent job. I know nothing about the Bengali language and accent, nor can I tell the different dialects of India apart. Still, to my ignorant ear the narrator did a good job with the accents and keeping the characters distinct. For some reason, Wyndham’s pronunciation of Ananda sounded like Allender throughout the entire book. I don’t know if this was on purpose or not.