Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy is a story about many worlds, the worlds within them, and even the secret worlds of the characters. They find themselves in Jarmuli, Roy’s fictionalized religious capital of India; however, each of them appear humanly irreligious in their own way at this tourist attraction. Badal wrestles with his unrequited love for Raghu, a young man who works in a tea shop by the sea under the all too watchful eye of Johnny Toppo. The snippets of folk songs and poetry in the novel are all sung by this tea shop owner: ‘Wary as a thief is that watching egret, White in the emerald paddy. And the rain came again and again that night, Soaked all the emerald paddy.’ Yet perhaps these words allude to the scars he keeps tucked under his neck scarf and is more than what he says he is.
Nomi is the protagonist of the novel, an orphan originally from India who grew up with her foster mother in Norway, and who now returns to the fractured world of her past. Suraj is her unwilling and ominously hot-blooded colleague, never seen without a cigarette in his mouth, who has been tasked with helping her research the temples for a TV show. Roy’s beautiful turns of phrase never cease: ‘A bulb,’ to Nomi, ‘was a secret between the soil and me,’ and when the sexual abuse and violence of her past is revealed, Roy really achieves the art of breaking a reader’s heart.
The story is punctuated with the ramblings of three old biddies, Latika, Gouri and Vidya, who have escaped from the city and their family troubles to enjoy Jarmuli. Their aches, pains and Gouri’s encroaching memory loss are rather endearing and their holiday has an air of being the last rebellious fling of their lives. Just like the characters, all of us in some way are sleeping on Jupiter, either meditating on our past or imagining a different world for our future. Roy captures this dual experience of suffering and yearning quite perfectly in the world she has created and shows us the struggle of Nomi to liberate herself from the consuming world of her past.
About the reviewer
Alisia Nelson-Smith is a just finishing her BA in English at the University of Leicester and is hoping to go on to do an MA in Modern Literature and Creative Writing. In her spare time she enjoys swimming, hiking, playing her Dalmatian Thomas and travelling. If she’s not doing these things she’s probably dreaming about them.