Title: The Village
Author: Nikita Lalwani
Release Date: July 9, 2013
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Literary Fiction, Cultural Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5
Ray Bhullar is a filmmaker with the BBC who has her eyes on a very unique subject for a documentary: a village in India, called Ashwer, that also functions as a prison. Every prisoner in the village committed murder, and they are required to live there with their families. It’s an open prison, yet reoffending rates and escape attempts are simply nonexistent. Intrigued by this successful experiment, Ray attempts to find a story in what is happening in the village, only to make some difficult realizations about herself.
An open prison that houses murderers and allows them to remain with their families—it’s an interesting thought, and one that Lalwani explores to the fullest in The Village. What is the purpose of a prison? Is it punitive, rehabilitative, or, perhaps, a bit of both? The experiment at Ashwer gives prisoners a purpose by forcing themselves to take responsibility for and provide for their families. Lalwani forces the reader to ask themselves difficult questions about this system, resulting in a thought-provoking read with no easy answers. It’s such an interesting concept, and that premise will immediately hook readers into this fascinating novel.
But The Village is more than just a meditation on prisons and justice. Ray is twenty-eight years old and just finding herself when the novel begins. She has these grand plans to tell the stories of others, yet she doesn’t know her own tale. What does Ray hold dear? Where do her beliefs come from? Lalwani provides a sharp, and at times painful, tale of introspection, of trying to find yourself through the stories of others. But when do such actions, inherent in the goals of documentary filmmaking, become exploitative?
Indeed, Ray is not the easiest character to sympathize with in The Village. She’s incredibly well-written and complex, but her insecurities are fascinatingly difficult. It almost hurts to read some of these scenes, to watch her blunder through yet another interaction. At the same time, though, Lalwani provides an exceptionally thoughtful commentary on identity, on how others perceive us versus how we see ourselves.
The Village is a rich, rewarding read that will leave readers contemplating its themes and issues for days, even weeks, after turning its last pages. Lalwani’s crisp, clear prose is so easy to read, and she brings the many characters in this book to life for the reader. Though the book is slow at times, this novel would make an excellent book club pick, as there are so many different things to think about within its pages.
Other books by Nikita Lalwani: