Smell, A Review

Smell By Radhika Jha

As a rule, if I put down a book I rarely pick it up again, if it can’t hold my attention in ten pages. When a book by Indian female writer starts with stereotypical portrayals of first generation immigrants, and the book is set outside India, I would typically not break that rule. Still, I am glad I curbed my instincts, when it came to Smell for I had not one but two strong recos from people who are probably more dismissive of bad writing than I.

Smell is a refreshingly original book by Radhika Jha, for one it’s anything but Indian (not that I’ve anything against a book being Indian, but it’s refreshing to see an Indian not being bound by that identity while writing, especially fiction). Yes, she uses the angst of a refugee – doubly so, for her protagonist has to leave her native country Kenya, and has never seen her ancestral country and yet the identity is kinda stamped on her — but that’s just a minor detail.

The novel itself is an adult version of Alice In Wonderland, only a dark one. When Leela, the protagonist is sent to her uncle’s place in Paris, after her father’s death, she doesn’t know that she’s almost abandoned by her mother to her faith. The new home is also closed on her, in unusual circumstances, and she’s left to fend for herself in an alien country.

What transpires is a series of experiences and relationships, as she tries to find a meaning, in all the chaos. With only her strong sense of smell to guide her, she steps in an out of different worlds. There is an element of unbelievable in the story, but it’s just plausibility which is a question. When a writer flirts with implausibility, it’s absolutely forgivable if the story is fascinating, and not trying to ram something dull down your throats, and Radhika has left nothing to complain in that department. You become a part, and not just a spectator, of Leela’s sensual journey, as she struggles to rediscovers her soul. The breadth of experiences and the stories and sub-stories keep you guessing where will you be led next. Smell is more than worth a read.


7 thoughts on “Smell, A Review

  1. anonymous says:

    nazi, I think you’ve been able to put in words what I felt abt the book. Also , I liked the book when I read it as smell is one consistent thread in the story and it kind of holds or anchors all the life experiences of the protagonist. It does not come across as an Indians story. Its more of an experience that any one outside wanting to have an inside goes through.

  2. anonymous says:

    the intro in DSS saying ‘a brief of Review of Smell by Radhika Jha” made me think that it is a brief about a review. I did not check it out till now. So, one more book that goes on the never ending list.. [my biggest fear is I will die before finishing the list..]. btw, something about smell reminded me of the Penelope Cruz movie “Woman on Top”. 🙂

  3. anonymous says:

    hated that movie. Saw the poster and knew it wont go well . the best is the loudmouth in the lab comes back and tells the PI we went and saw it. Man the leg pulling we took cus of it.


  4. anonymous says:

    when this first came out a few years ago, i remember it got panned in the media here. and the few reviews that were actually positive had such horrible excerpts quoted from the book, that i decided to just stay away.

    but after this recco from you, sounds like i need to check it out. at least browse thru it at a bookstore, or maybe see if any of my friends have a copy.


  5. anonymous says:

    thanks everyone for comments.

    bilbo, glad to know the review made sense..

    ssm, like I said, more than worth a look… my suggestion is, don’t put it down based on a cursory glance… the writing style varies from mediocre to lucid… give it a decent try if you gotta..

    thanks funny.. yeah. i corrected the DSS entry… now that u mention, i’m wondering why I didn’t think of the movie… maybe its because the movie is a load of BS? just maybe.. thanks for dropping in..


  6. anonymous says:

    yupp!! the movie was a bunch of crap [more so cos I cannot stand penelope cruz and her accent].. and no, I did not go for the title of the movie!! 🙂

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