In short, The Book of Chocolate Saints tells the fictional story of a young Indian poet’s struggle for fame. However, the realistic details of the brooding artist’s life seem too real to be considered fiction.
The author Jeet Thayil, whose first novel, Narcopolis, was short-listed for the Man Booker price, writes the story of clashing cultures dedicated to Dom Moraes, Indian writer and poet, which suggests his story could be influenced by his life. However, the comparison between facts and fiction does not end there. Around the time of release, Thayil casually discussed the book’s autobiographical elements, drawing comparisons from his own life, yet does not confirm anything.
Francis Newton Xavier flees a post 9/11 New York with his partner Goody Lol to return to India after wrestling with inner-demons, his relationship and writer’s block. Following the loss of touch with his Indian roots and assimilating more into English culture, his intensions are unclear, giving little away to the reader.
What grips you in this piece of non-conventional Indian literature from the start is the structure of the book. Immediately you are introduced to the protagonist. Written in the style of research and interviews compiled by Xavier’s biographer and journalist, Dismas Bambai, you manage to explore the character in different stages of his life. Hearing of his different relationships with these interviewees, some of which are friends, family and sometimes enemies, these people shape the personality of the deep and intense poet from the start pushing you to read and learn more.
Exploring issues of misogamy, corruption and racism, this ambitious book tells the untold stories of the ‘Bombay Poets’ of the 1970s/80s, and whilst doing so he raises questions as to why there hasn’t been any written before.
“Why has no one written about the Bombay poets of the seventies and eighties, poets who sprouted from the soil like weeds or mushrooms or carnivorous new flowers, who arrived like meteors, burned bright for a season or two, and vanished without a trace?”
This account of the artist’s descent into either redemption or doom forms a fast-paced and thrilling story of Indian-English literature of which I have never read before.