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A multigenerational novel of love, oppression, trauma and the pursuit of freedom, inspired in part by the author's own family history, China Room twines together the stories of a woman and a man separated by more than half a century but united by blood.
Mehar, a young bride in rural 1929 Punjab, is trying to discover the identity of her new husband. She and her sisters-in-law, married to three brothers in a single ceremony, spend their days hard at work in the family's 'china room', sequestered from contact with the men. When Mehar develops a theory as to which of them is hers, a passion is ignited that will put more than one life at risk.
Spiralling around Mehar's story is that of a young man who in 1999 travels from England to the now-deserted farm, its 'china room' locked and barred. In enforced flight from the traumas of his adolescence - his experiences of addiction, racism, and estrangement from the culture of his birth - he spends a summer in painful contemplation and recovery, before finally finding the strength to return 'home'.
© Sunjeev Sahota 2021 (P) Penguin Audio 2021
With poise, restraint and deep intelligence, Sahota feeds us big, difficult themes - segregation and freedom, revolution and empire - in a form that is unsweetened, fresh and nourishing. Surely this, his third novel, will propel him up the shortlists to the prizewinning status he deserves.
Sahota combines great writing with amazing storytelling... his books are intelligent and beautifully written and very poised but also incredibly immersive, gripping and very moving. An epic in miniature, China Room is the kind of novel that reminds you why you fell in love with reading in the first place.
China Room is the most personal of Sahota's novels so far, a beautifully realised blend of fiction and memoir... Sahota is a truly original novelist, his prose sparingly precise in its beauty, steeped in kindness and deep humanity.
Sahota gives his period narrative the same effortless immediacy as his present-day one, yet his novel works by stealth, quietly beguiling the reader into an almost painful intimacy... I loved it.
There is a scrupulous subtlety about that way that Sahota refuses to let his historical characters act as though they are in a historical novel... Sahota has demonstrated an ambitious need to adapt the specific and concrete to something less easy to pin down, complete with all the gaps and ruptures that life provides and art makes, even for a moment, tangible.