Title: The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay
Author: Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi
Release Date: October 12, 2010
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Genre: Literary Fiction, Multicultural Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5
Karan Seth, a photographer working in Bombay, decides that he wants to capture the essence of the city through his pictures. He receives the difficult assignment of photographing Samar Arora, a famous pianist who is incredibly private. He becomes friends with Samar and through him, is exposed to an entirely new side of Bombay, one with darkness and secrets, but also the lightness of being and joy of life.
The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay captured me from the very first page. Shanghvi’s beautiful writing takes the reader in, immersing them in the story that is to be told. His prose is melodic, gentle on the eyes. Even at the darkest times, the writing makes the story easy to drink in. Shanghvi creates an entire world for the reader, simply through his gorgeous prose.
The portrait of Bombay Shanghvi paints is an incredible one. Somehow, he captures the essence of this large city of contradictions in this book. He shows the lifestyles of the rich and well-to-do, juxtaposing them against slum life. The reader sees the difficulties of life in modern day India, as the country is growing and changing. The values and culture are leaning towards the West, but of course, there is backlash and resentment within that shift. It’s a bustling, busy city; sights, smells, and sounds assault the senses, and somehow Shanghvi is able to translate this onslaught of sensation into words. He really delivers an amazing portrait of Bombay in this book.
It’s hard to really pinpoint the type of book The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay is. It’s a character exploration, a book of self-realizations, while also being a procedural book about how the Indian judicial system works. It’s a scathing social commentary, while also being a labor of love to an incredibly vibrant city. It tries to be so many things at once, which is usually a bad sign. But somehow, this book accomplishes every ambitious thing it sets out to do. It’s an incredibly engaging, and sometimes explosive, novel about living, loving, and dying.
The characters in The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay are all a bit lost within the huge city in which they live. They can’t find themselves until they find each other. Karan learns what it means to live through Samar and Zaira, a movie star friend of Samar’s. He learns the meaning of love, but also the heartbreak of death. He learns that friendship is a form of love, and can be just as powerful as romantic love. He internalizes some beautiful, though very difficult, lessons over the course of the novel. Though he makes some very poor decisions, the reader can’t help but love Karan, not despite his fallibility but because of it.
The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay is a beautiful, riveting piece of fiction. It shows us the tragedy of human life, while also extolling the beauty of friendship and love. It’s a commentary on the corruption of the Indian judicial system, while it also shows appreciation for the vibrancy of the city of Bombay. It will be something different to every reader and is an incredible book I can’t recommend highly enough.