Quill and Quire


« Back to
Book Reviews

Brahma’s Dream

by Shree Ghatage

On the eve of independence in the late 1940s, India was swept by events of epic political and cultural significance: the end of British rule, the assassination of Gandhi, the collision of modernism with age-old social and cultural structures. By contrast, Shree Ghatage’s Brahma’s Dream, set in Bombay in 1948, is firmly domestic in genre and scale.

At its heart is Mohini, a 13-year-old girl whose life is defined by the disease that has threatened her since birth. Around her in concentric rings Ghatage brings a community into focus: Mohini’s parents, grandfather, aunt, doctor, friends, and neighbours in the quiet streets off Caddell Road. Somewhere beyond lies the noise of political and class upheaval.

Mohini suffers from Cooley’s anemia, a genetic disorder that means there will be no more children in the family. She has reached puberty only though heroic efforts – her own, and those of her parents and doctors. She lives in constant pain, yet her life is surprisingly happy, as Mohini is cherished – adored – for her stalwartness, her hunger to live and to understand the world, and her intense connection to others.

Point of view moves fluidly from one character to another, but Ghatage always brings us back to Mohini’s clear-eyed view. The effect is oddly like one of those old Magic Eye images: once she is in focus, the book opens marvellously into three-dimensionality. This works extraordinarily well as a technique for leading the foreign reader surefootedly into a complex, changing India: infidels live among the Hindu faithful; Mohini’s grandfather refuses to abandon his 24-year-old niece to become a shadowy relict of her late husband as custom demands.

Ghatage, who now lives in Calgary, emigrated from India to the Maritimes in the 1980s. Her first book, the story collection Awake When All the World Is Asleep, won the Raddall Atlantic Fiction award. Brahma’s Dream affirms her as a mature and gifted writer.


Reviewer: Maureen Garvie

Publisher: Doubleday Canada


Price: $34.95

Page Count: 448 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-385-66015-4

Released: Aug.

Issue Date: 2004-7

Categories: Fiction: Novels