Anubha Mehta is a Canadian writer and artist who was born in India. With a doctorate in Political Science and two decades of Canadian public service experience, Anubha has been awarded for her leadership work for diverse communities. Her short stories and poems have been published in several Canadian magazines and journals. Peacock in the Snow is her debut novel.As I consider my ever-changing “to be read” stack of books, there is currently a predominance of literature written by, and about the immigrant experience on both sides of the globe, starting with the old, established way of life then moving on to the stark reality of trying to adapt to life in a new country thousands of miles from home. Many, if not all of the stories are derivative of the author’s own experience, yet they write of what they know best, adding realism to the story and acquainting the reader with the unfamiliar aspects of immigration into Canada at the same time. Anubha Mehta’s debut novel is no exception, and while the story in Peacock in the Snow is a good one, it is not one without deficiencies, but more about that in a moment.
The story starts in India in the year 1985. Maya’s wedding day has approached, and she is marrying Veer Rajsinghania, a man who comes from a wealthy, established Delhi family. Maya’s family, while not poor, has had to work for everything they needed, with no servants to assist them. Upon marrying, she is to live in Veer’s family mansion with the aged Sheila as her personal maid. Sheila knows all the family secrets, and Maya learns that she looks very much like Veer’s deceased grandmother Gayatri, who died at the hands of her husband many years ago. Veer’s mother shuns her, believing that Maya only married her son for his money, not for love. It is these secrets that dog Maya and Veer throughout the story, which moves to Canada where Veer is to establish an extension of the family business. I’ll refrain from telling any more of the story to avoid spoilers, but suffice it to say that challenges in their new life threaten their marriage (they have a little girl, Diya as well) in addition to the preexisting emotional and mental baggage they brought across the water from India.
As I mentioned earlier, Peacock in the Snow is not without its shortcomings. At 320 pages, it just falls short of being a great saga. If more time was spent on the previous two generations and a little less on the present one, a more balanced story would have resulted. As a Westerner, I am fascinated by stories (fictional or non-fictional) of India before de-colonization and the separation of India and Pakistan, and Peacock held my interest when it was flashing back to those times. I became less interested as the story progressed and moved to Canada (although the struggles of new immigrants are always eye-opening) and trial after trial faced the family, some believable, some a little less (like travelling to Tuktoyaktuk!). Ms. Mehta also uses some interesting word combinations at times (an “apologizing scarf”?) that made this reader wince. Another pet-peeve as a reader is the use of the adjective “steaming” when describing a cup of coffee or tea. By definition, coffee and tea is typically served hot, so describing it as “steaming” is redundant.
Overall, Peacock in the Snow is an ambitious debut novel that covers a lot of ground, and it has a kind of Disney-animation feel about it, which is not a bad thing, but a few trials have a predictable outcome, while others like Veer’s battling with a hungry bear, travelling to Canada’s Far North, and surviving avalanches and blizzards just push the envelope of credulity further and further.
Nonetheless, I would very much like to read Ms. Mehta’s next novel (or short story collection), as I feel she exhibits much promise as an author. I will add Peacock in the Snow to the 2019 longlist for the “Very Best!” Book Awards in the First Book category.
Peacock in the Snow by Anubha Mehta
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