Waiting for the Monsoon

Waiting for the Monsoon, by Threes Anna
Translated by Barbara Potter Fasting

Reviewed by Kari Tanaka

Somehow, between the cooking, the wrapping, the eating, the drinking, the Star Wars Lego, the Disney princesses, and the World Juniors that made up my Christmas holidays, I miraculously found time to start, (and finish!), a novel that has been sitting on my night stand for a number of weeks.    Originally published in the Netherlands with much success, Threes Anna’s Waiting for the Monsoon has been beautifully translated for English readers by Barbara Potter Fasting and it is rumoured that a movie version, starring Barbara Hershey and Naveen Andrews, is also in the works.
The book opens in Rampur, India, 1995 with an odd scene.  Elderly white widow, Charlotte Bridgewater, is mowing the lawn of her own estate before daybreak brings its unbearable heat.  The estate, once known for its elaborate parties and plethora of servants, stands dilapidated and virtually empty, save for Charlotte, her demented father, and a single faithful servant.  In order to save face with her friends and help ease financial pressures, Charlotte is persuaded to rent a room to Madan, a mute Indian tailor who has been hired to create evening gowns for an upcoming gala.  A magical connection is discovered as the two soon realize that they are able to communicate despite Madan’s inability to speak or write.  Their attraction to each other is inexplicable, although a series of flashbacks reveals that their connections run deeper than even they know.
I initially found the sheer number of flashbacks, locations, and characters to be distracting, however, once I grew accustomed to the pace and was able to maintain my bearings within each storyline, I began to appreciate how each piece of history enhanced the tensions occurring within the 1995 setting.  Via flashbacks we learn why Charlotte is so desperate for love, how her British General father has become a broken man, and the secret behind Madan’s silence.  We feel the bitter cold of a snow storm in the Himalayas, the suppressing Indian heat that descends before a monsoon, the fear of crawling through the Burmese jungle with enemy soldiers closing in, and the loneliness of a child lost in the poverty stricken streets of India. 
This is a sweeping novel that charts the history of two families, both torn apart by war, expectation and duty.   Each segment illustrates a connection to all the others but the connections are overshadowed by images that evoke feelings suppression and isolation.  The heavy heat before the storm is the obvious image to pick out here, but the collection of such images is so dense that even the description of a beetle’s exoskeleton or, the confines of a garment sewn for someone else, left me feeling claustrophobic.   All of the characters are shown to suffer the consequences of loneliness and isolation, whether self-imposed or otherwise, making the emerging relationship between Charlotte and Madan even more compelling.
Waiting for the Monsoon will be available in paperback this February.  So, get through the craziness of rush, get settled in your classes, and just when you start to think about what your next piece of leisure reading should be, Waiting for the Monsoon will be waiting for you on the shelf of your favourite bookstore.