Happily, over the last few years there has been a boom in English translations of Indian language literatures. Among other publishers, HarperCollins India has been bringing out interesting books from different regions of India, focusing on contemporary fiction in various Indian languages. Chronicles of the Lost Daughters, a translation of Debarati Mukhopadhyay’s Bengali novel Narach, is part of this exciting exercise. In the hands of Arunava Sinha, one of our best translators, this critique of 19th century Bengal comes alive in English as a gripping, engrossing text.
Set in the middle of the Bengal renaissance, Chronicles is an ambitious novel. Mukhopadhyay casts her net wide—over the lives of various people spread across the villages of Bengal and different parts of Calcutta and going as far as Suriname in South America. The book tells us of the dreams and sorrows of a Brahmin family and the diverse trajectories of the lives of its members. It reminds us of the ills of Brahminism, of the terrible fate of child brides and child widows, of the reformist movement of the Brahmo Samaj, of the horrific fate of indentured labour, of the heady charm of the arts in the last days of the last Mughal Emperor, Wajid Ali Shah. Finally, it unfurls the power of human resolve in the face of insurmountable odds.