Esperanza Street by Niyati Keni
|Esperanza Street by Niyati Keni|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: A beautifully told story and crowd-funded novel that makes us grateful for crowd funding. The tale of a small Filipino town through the eyes of a boy as he grows and as events signal a coming of age for them both.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 326||Date: February 2015|
|Publisher: And Other Stories|
Joseph's parents send him to work for Auntie Mary and her B&B business on Esperanza Street. Over the years there life for Joseph goes on the way it has for countless other youngsters from this Filipino town of Puerto. His mother may have died too young and Joseph only sees his father one day a week (and has to suffer church for part of that!) but there's a rhythm to the market outside and foreign visitors within Auntie Mary's walls that's familiar and comforting. It's a rhythm that's been there for generations but things change, sometimes with catastrophic results.
Crowd funding is becoming a widespread and successful method of raising money to publish books that may not otherwise see the light of day. This is the sort of novel that small publishing house And Other Stories specialises in and this time they (and the individual sponsors on the novel's final pages) have discovered gold: they've discovered Niyati Keni.
Niyati is English-born of Indian parents, has travelled all over (including the Philippines) and works as a palliative care doctor. It seems a no-brainer to point out that a profession like this needs attention to detail and compassion. However, these two qualities seem to be transferable as they also slide over into this, her literary debut.
Each person Niyati creates takes on a complete, engaging form in front of our imaginations. This story may be told by Joseph but it's actually an utterly entrancing ensemble piece with Joseph at its centre.
Auntie Mary is straight talking but fair to Joseph and her other B&B staff. Meanwhile her son Dub is desperate to become the next rock god. Unfortunately, though, his feet are definitely clay as Joseph realises when he's called in to sort Dub's life out, with interesting results. Even the more dubious denizens of the locality like Eddie are three dimensional as Niyati shuns the easy pantomime baddie route to give us someone we can almost walk around, even if we, like Joseph, would rather stay clear of him.
This is definitely a coming of age novel as Joseph grows from a boy into a teenager, edging towards his loss of innocence. One of the interesting things is that his loss of innocence tallies with that of the street as a whole. We're entranced from the start as we become absorbed by the lilting charm of Joseph's vignettes. Sometimes we may smile at the humour, the naiveté of the locals' beliefs or their ingenuity; a home on a cart that doubles as a mobile casino being just one example. However every now and again our adult understanding sees ominous shadows that the boy's mind misses. We then begin to fear for the folk we've grown to love, and then…
I don't want to go on about the characters of Esperanza Street but rarely have I been so riveted to a group of people that I forget they're fictional. In some ways Niyati has dipped her pen into the same literary ink well as such character-driven writers as Alexander McCall Smith but she does it so much better – and I speak as a McCall Smith fan too.
Niyati is indeed a joy to read and the even greater joy is that she's currently working on her second novel. This is the power of book sponsorship by the everyday person and now we have proof positive that it works.
(Thank you so much to And Other Stories for not just for providing us with a copy for review but also for doing what you do.)
Further Reading: If you enjoy a good character-driven story, we thoroughly recommend If I Knew You Were Going To Be This Beautiful, I Never Would Have Let You Go by Judy Chicurel, one of our favourites from 2014.
You can read more book reviews or buy Esperanza Street by Niyati Keni at Amazon.com.
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