Barbara Bamberger Scott
ForeWord Clarion Review
Five Stars (out of Five)
Karam Pardesi is “the reluctant Midas; it seemed that everything he touched turned to gold.” In this historical novel of a young man whose fortunes change as the world changes, Sohan S. Koonar has created a sensual India and a cerebral Canada, connected by an island of good karma and sharp business acumen in the person of Karam.
Beginning in 1938, Karam’s Kismet traces the life of a boy born into the Chura (sweeper)caste in pre-independence India. His birth is marked by a small gift from a dying guru, Sant Baba, so his mother makes a shrine for the saint and tends it all her life. Ordinarily, such a lowcaste boy as Karam would have no hope for changes to his circumstances, but his fate is unusual and remarkable: first, being allowed to go to newly formed schools in the more egalitarian India, then being taken under the wing of an elderly British doctor to study medicine, then being sent to Canada, and eventually partnering with a Jewish businessman in the medical lab business.
The partnership slowly gains purchase as the two men prosper beyond their wildest
dreams, with each new challenge leading to decisions that garner them greater wealth and fame.
Karam becomes known as a Chura who overcame his humble origins. He is honored in India, which has also prospered from Karam’s shared wealth and where he still visits his family. By the 1970s, Karam’s business is international and his vision universal; as he always counsels his Chura kin, “Cling to the old ways and lose.”
In the little village where he was born, Karam’s mother tends the shrine of Sant Baba, ensuring that it is honored and revered in the region. The novel ends with readers seeing the inner reality of her devotion and its mystical link to her son’s rise to fame and fortune.
As the events of Karam’s life unfold, the author guides readers skillfully through the maze of world events, especially the changes that blast through India after independence.
Though the country is different, Koonar—who, like his novel’s hero, was born in India and now resides in Canada—makes it clear that the stigma of caste (along with religious and linguistic differences) remains among his countrymen, keeping them socially backward and influencing even the smallest matters, such as who can offer, and who can accept, a cup of tea.
Koonar’s prose is powerful and evocative, his plot never lagging. When Karam (whose
name is, of course, a rearrangement of the word “karma”) returns to India for the first time after eight years abroad, he experiences what so many expatriates confront as they disembark: “India assaulted Karam’s senses the moment the airplane’s door opened to the early morning breeze of New Delhi . . . the humidity and the heat hit him like a wave . . . Rather than becoming nauseous, he was strangely exhilarated.” Entering the terminal Karam realizes that “Nothing had changed! The coolies assaulted the passengers like a swarm of locusts.”
Though Koonar is a relatively unknown writer at this time, it is not unreasonable to predict a trajectory, impelled by this panoramic and very human saga, which will bring his name into the realm of well-known and respected writers. In Koonar’s writing there is a distinct connection to noted expatriate Indian authors like R. K. Narayan and V. S. Naipaul. One hopes that nothing will hold this book back from the success it deserves.
Karam’s Kismet: Touching story of faith, determinaion and uprising
By Swaranjit Sidhu
Just finish reading Karam’s Kismet and felt so overwhelmed,could not get up for couple of hours. Very touching story of faith, determinaion and uprising. The author has shown what India has gone through from pre independence to the modern day. I highly recommend this book for young men and women to read and discover that sky is the limit. Congratulations to Sohan Koonar for his first novel, waiting eagerly for his second.
Karam’s Kismet: Excellent Debut Novel From An Exciting New Author★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Sohan Koonar is a fresh name in historical fiction authorship. His debut novel about the destiny of an exceptionally gifted ‘untouchable’ youth, born into the awakening world of pre-war India, gives readers an open window into one of the largest social evolutions of the modern era. A journey that explores the true meaning of race, clan, caste, religion, mysticism and fate with a delicate touch and a soothing voice.
Unlike other contemporary authors, Koonar leaves room for readers to make their own decisions about the power and morality of complex matters. A fictional protagonist painted as a transparent layer over the beautiful tapestry of Indian history, Karam is a character carefully crafted to reveal the nuanced conflict that exists between the tradition of rural mysticism and the bright lights of urban science. His journey through the infancy of a modern Indian educational system, and his eventual realization that great competence also comes with a duty of self-sacrifice, gives this story heart and speaks to the courage of people willing to change the world through their own daily deeds.
In Koonar’s skilled hands the prejudices we all struggle to reject are illuminated without shame or penalty. Instead, Koonar shows his own inherent belief in the best of humanity by asking questions of his audience without spoon-feeding us the answers. The full spectrum, from modern reason to a traditional belief in divine forces, is well-represented and readers are asked to examine their own views with a sense of humility that is uncommon in most open debate. Some self-analysis is best reserved for the kind of private exploration that fits perfectly into the realm of a very good book by an exciting new author.
Sohan Koonar has written a fast read filled with difficult questions and created a journey worth undertaking, as Karam’s Kismet is a book you will find yourself contemplating long after you have completed reading it. It’s books like this one that allow an author like Koonar to bridge the gap between having a fresh new voice, and having earned the trust of a loyal audience.
(Published on: Amazon.com)