The Sea of Innocence by Kishwar Desai
I picked up this book The Sea of Innocence to read at a leisurely pace. But ended up reading in 2 straight sittings in one day. The story is captivating. The suspense keeps you on the edge. And I was definitely not prepared for the chilling end of the story. There was no way I could put the book down and add the fact that the story is based on the beaches of Goa. I was reading it sitting not too far from there.
In a smartly woven tale, author talks in first-person through the protagonist Simran Singh. And unravels a mystery involving the disappearance of a young British girl from the beaches of Goa. Presented as a tourist’s heaven, the state, and its beaches are getting known more for its drugs, alcohol, and prostitution than for the scenic beauty. Drugs bring in high financial stakes. And hence influential people along with them who invest in beach shacks, guesthouses, and casinos. All this leads to a web of local Goans, some powerful people in government, police and of course foreign citizens. What the author has not touched is the widely accepted presence of foreign drug mafia though.
The story begins when Simran reluctantly starts looking out for a missing British girl. And in the process meets many players in the drug chain first-hand. Including the father and sister of the missing girl and street vendors who can speak 5-6 foreign languages fluently, to staff working in various shacks and ships. A trap leads her into looking for a girl but what she reveals through the story is how a destination that looks so appealing to tourists actually has an ugly underbelly. There are many who get lost serving this underbelly. While everything remains hunky dory on the surface. She brings in a bit of history through the flower children and the hippies who left everything to be in Goa. And how that aging population is viewed by the current generations.
The description is so vivid that I wanted to go to those very beaches and read the book right there. And see if I can find those people who are mentioned in the book – ok, some versions of them may be.
Parallel to the story runs the narration of the author’s personal story of her old and new relationships. Her status as a middle aged spinster and the battle of the bulge, her adopted teenaged daughter and her fears for her. In a story that is spread over just a few days, she finds a new man for herself. Who becomes her strength and companion in solving the mystery. This part of the story brings in the much-needed respite from the main story that can be very disturbing and depressing. There is an effort to inject a bit of humor but without meddling with the seriousness of the main story.
I liked story telling, its pace and the language of the book The Sea of Innocence. I must admit I met the author a few years ago at Jaipur Literature Festival and conveniently slotted her as a socialite in my mind. And never thought of her as a capable writer. But after reading this book I want to pick up all her books and read. Talk about stereotypes and the conditioning of our minds.
Read it, but it may leave with some distaste for Goa…
PS: I have no clue how this book landed on my doorstep, whoever sent it – A big Thank You.