Alice Albinia's debut novel, "Leela's Book," is a story about families – but with a twist - a deity is a central character in this story. Ganesh is an actual character and occasional narrator in this book.
As Leela’s book opens you learn that the Hindu deity has spent eons tracking down Leela and Meera, soul sisters who have been repeatedly victimized by Vyasa, legendary composer of the ancient Hindu epic, the "Mahabharata." Vyasa has beset these women across various lifetimes, in Mughal emperor Humayun's court and during partition. But Ganesh, Vyasa's scribe, has devised a plan to reveal the Vyasa’s unscrupulous ways while protecting his beloved Leela, who in her latest incarnation is a beautiful, middle-aged New Yorker.
Leela, who is trying to forget her mysterious past, has avoided going home to India for two decades, but her simple, wealthy husband convinces her to return for a Delhi wedding. His niece, Sunita, is going to marry Ash, and a series of outrageous, perhaps divine coincidences bind this couple and their families together. Ash's father is none other than Vyasa. Vyasa, who in his latter-day incarnation is a liberal scholar of Sanskrit, also happens to be the ideological nemesis of Sunita's father, Shiva Prasad, a Hindu zealot with political and literary aspirations.
Through out the book this tangled web of relationships, which parodies the "Mahabharata" itself, gets exponentially more complicated. Leela's Book is a novel in which Albinia skillfully manages an intricate plot and an enormous, diverse cast of characters. Her immense historical acumen and sophisticated sense of culture have enabled her to craft a powerful tale. Leela’s Book is sprawling in scope. I found it bold, playful, smart and lively. Multiple family secrets are brought to life and explode in fireworks of star-crossed lovers, lost siblings and hidden birthrights. The characters are wonderful and come to life in this narrative epic and the novel is resourceful and entertaining. "Leela’s Book" is a novel to reread.
Review by Wendy Ward