A Little Distillery in Nowgong, by Ashok Mathur – Book Review

A Little Distillery in Nowgong details the Khargat family history over an 80 year period and is narrated by a child not- yet- born into this family. The novel begins with Jamshed, the son of Soona and Beramshah, who displays the particular habit of “going right” – one who becomes distracted/ preoccupied by something else – and this causes concern for the family. A four year old Jamshed explains that he is talking to his grandchild, Sunny. After being expelled from his school for his disruptive behaviour regarding his communications with Sunny, the father decides to move the family south to Bombay; a large and culturally diverse centre that will surely be more accepting of Jamshed’s behaviour. It is here where Jamshed grows and becomes a man, albeit a not conventionally good-looking man, and eventually finds love in courtship and subsequent marriage to the more than conventionally beautiful Parvin.

During this period, Sunny still appears in Jamshed’s life at moments Jamshed cannot control, for this yet- to- be-born grandchild is not one that can be summoned. He appears when his advice is necessary and this necessity is determined by Sunny himself.  Heartache befalls the couple and in order to repair their marriage and themselves, they move to Nowgong where Jamshed will run a less than functional distillery. Good fortune finally finds their way to the couple and they have a daughter, Piroja, who is beyond intelligent and as beautiful as her mother. In order to make the most of her intelligence and, most importantly, to prevent any misfortune against their daughter, they send her to away to school.  Piroja’s strong-will and determination will take her from India, to England and finally to Canada where she will eventually become the mother of Sunny. Or will she?

Author Ashok Mathur is master of words. Full stop. He not only has the ability to capture your attention with such a unique tale but also had the ability to maintain your interest. The fluidity of his writing creates a stillness in the reader and while I would describe his novel as a “page turner” I do not mean it in the traditional sense. Most “page-turner’s” create a sense of urgency in which the reader must complete the book in a certain amount of time. Mathur’s writing, on the other hand, invites you to continue reading about the events of the Khargat family but there is no urgency. The reader continues on the journey because of the peacefulness his writing creates and you want to take pleasure in that tranquil feeling. His characters, which are all strong in their own individual way (especially the women), face many ups and downs but the reader does not feel distressed or anxious about how the story will unfold and, before you realise it, you have completed your journey with A Little Distillery in Nowgong. You are not left wanting more, but rather, left with the feeling that the story is complete and pleased that you were able to witness the story of the Khargat family. Beautifully written.