Title: Bijou Roy
Author: Ronica Dhar
Release Date: July 20, 2010
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Multicultural Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5
After the death of her father, Bijoya Roy (nicknamed “Bijou”) must fulfill his last rites and place his ashes on the Ganges River in India. Though this is usually performed by the eldest son, because her father had only daughters, the duty falls to Bijou. She leaves her boyfriend in Washington, DC and travels with her family to India, feeling all the pressure and responsibility of being a dutiful daughter. Once there, though, Bijou meets some old friends of her father’s and realizes how much she didn’t even know him.
Bijou Roy is the story of a woman caught between two worlds - the comfort of her home in the United States, and this foreign world in India that her father belonged to. When she first arrives in India, she fights with everything she has against accepting what is around her. All she wants to do is hide in her grief, yet so much is being asked of her and expected of her. When she learns that there is more to her father than she knew, it makes Bijou feel even worse, that there was such an important part of him hidden from her. However, as she explores her father’s past through Naveen, the son of her father’s close friend, she begins to understand her father more than she ever did while he was alive.
A constant theme running through Bijou Roy is that of pressure. Bijou feels pressure from all sides - her boyfriend wanting to be there for her during this difficult time, but Bijou wanting space, her mother expecting her to complete the last rites of her father even though they aren’t traditional and she has no idea what to do, questions about her future, especially marriage - and she doesn’t know how to cope with all these people asking something of her. In some ways, she finds peace in her father’s past, even though what she uncovers disturbs her. There, she can just be herself, her father’s daughter, as she tries to understand the man she thought she knew and try to come to terms with his death. By doing so, she begins to understand crucial things about herself and about the clash between tradition and modernity going on around her.
Much of Bijou Roy and Bijou’s father’s past has to do with the Naxalite movement in India. I know next to nothing about this group going into the book, so it was nice to learn something about Indian history while reading this novel. Dhar does a solid job giving the reader a brief Indian history lesson, so it’s not necessary to have an intimate knowledge of the region before reading this book.
Bijou Roy was a beautiful story about the search for an identity in the midst of grief and loss. It’s wonderfully written; Dhar’s luminous prose really brings the character of Bijou to life. Bijou’s struggle to find a middle ground between what she wants and what she thinks is her duty is universal; as a result, the themes of this book will be accessible to many different backgrounds. This is a wonderful work of South Asian fiction, and I look forward to seeing what Ronica Dhar does next.