By Alice Albinia
Norton, $25.95, 422 pages
Leela Sharma is returning to India with her husband, Hari, after being away for decades. She doesn’t want to have anything to do with the past: the memories of Meera, her dead poet sister, Vyasa, her arrogant manipulator brother-in-law, or twins Bharati and Ash, the niece and nephew she hasn’t seen in twenty years. But she cannot escape. She never could in any of her previous lives and her reserved nature cannot help her now. Ganesh, elephant-headed god, scribe/author of the Mahabharata, sometime narrator of Leela’s Book tells us Leela’s soul has been connected to the others’ through numerous reincarnations. And now that Vyasa’s machinations have brought Leela back to Dehli for a family wedding, old conflicts and truths are coming to the surface. Ganesh will do what he can to help her, but his influence extends only so far.
The beauty of Leela’s Book is in its rich interwoven stories, reaching across continents, cultures, religions and lifetimes. Alice Albinia’s writing is lyrical and complex, her characters flawed and full, her plotlines intricate and captivating. The book takes on a great epic and brings it into the present. It’s a lush, profound, sophisticated novel and a pleasure to read.
Reviewed by Leah Sims