Didi is a content and dutiful wife and mother of two living in a village in Nepal while her husband, the Masterji, makes a living for the family living in the city working as an acclaimed tutor. Didi finds her life turned upside down when a messenger comes and delivers news of a beautiful new wife and young son that belong to her husband in the city. Refusing to be the woman scorned, Didi takes control and heads to the city with her two boys to confront both the Masterji and his new wife. When it becomes clear that Didi has no intention of leaving, the young, beautiful wife Apsara and her son Tarun are forced out of their home. Didi shows an interest in Tarun, who is timid, yet striking, and demands that the boy visits the home weekly.
This interest begins to grow into something far more manipulative and sinister as time goes on and Tarun, who is quiet, confused and dealing with the decline of his mother’s mental health, falls under Didi’s spell. Her controlling and assertive personality has also thrown the Masterji into a depression and he never once fights for his city wife and soon becomes a shell of his former self. As time goes on, Tarun takes the torments of his mother’s mental and emotional absence, his abuse from his elder stepbrother and all of his youthful confusion and further takes to Didi and enjoys her company. Soon, Didi’s obsession with Tarun grows and the two begin a different kind of relationship. The City Son soon becomes a twisted tale of secret lives, lies and explores the ways that relationships, healthy and unhealthy, shape the characters’ existence.
Tarun is a reluctant main character and the novel holds a voyeuristic tone that makes the reader feel as if they are peering into homes that they should stay far away from. Didi is abrasive, frightening and an excellent, yet almost silent villain that casts her spell across so many in the story. As Tarun grows up and is taken in by a wealthy benefactor who soon sets him up to be married, a new side of Didi is unleashed. Samrat Upadhyay builds his characters in a quiet, yet forceful way and the settings, the dark moods and brewing emotions all swirl together perfectly. The story is dark, yet thoughtful, much like Tarun, and level of raw emotions that are presented have the ability to make the reader feel intrusive, clued in, shocked and completely astonished. I finished the 200+ page novel in a day because I had to know what happened immediately. The author does a marvelous job of mixing a cringe-worthy plot against well-described settings with poignant characters in complex situations. The City Son is a powerful, innovative read that will hit every human emotion to the nerve.
Lauren Cannavino is a graduate student, freelance writer, wine lover, and avid reader. Random musings can be found over at www.goldiesays.com.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Soho Press. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.