Sunday, February 25, 2018

Book Review: 'The Migrant Report' by Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar

South Asian American author Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar live and write in Qatar (for those unsure of Qatar, it is a sovereign country located in Southwest Asia, occupying the small Qatar Peninsula on the northeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. Its sole land border is with Saudi Arabia to the south, with the rest of its territory surrounded by the Persian Gulf). In addition to being a wife and mother she has become a very popular author whose books are exceedingly varied in topics and most are winning awards.. She has published thirteen e-books - MOMMY BUT STILL ME (for first time mothers), SO YOU WANT TO SELL A MILLION COPIES (for aspiring writers), COULORED AND OTHER STORIES (a short story collection), SAVING PEACE (concerning women's friendships), AN UNLIKELY GODDESS ( a coming of age novel), FROM DUNES TO DIOR (essays relating her experiences as a female living in the Arabian Gulf), LOVE COMES LATER (a romance set in Qatar and London), THE DOHMESTICS (the relationships beaten housemaids and employers), I'M VEGGIN' IT: A BEGINNERS GUIDE, QATARI VOICES, HARAM IN THE HAREM: DOMESTIC NARRATIVES IN INDIA AND ALGERIA, HIP HOP DANCE (THE AMERICAN DANCE FLOOR), and THE OPPOSITE OF HATE. And now she offers THE MIGRANT REPORT which is scheduled to be a series on crimes in Arabia.

For a writer whose books vary form self-help to morality issues, it is refreshing to find that Mohanalakshmi can create significant atmosphere as well as a soft prelude that rapidly advances into the allegro of her tale. For example, compare the gentle tone of the opening with the chaos that is to come: `Thursday morning began like every other, the desert sun rising in the sky, as yellow as a yolk in a pan.' (very poetically phrased) "Get out of the way! Doesn't anyone know how to drive in this country," Ali snarled, his temper rising with the temperature. Heat shimmered on the windshields of the undulating column of sedans and SUVs between him and the office. "Yes, let's all take the same road and turn the highway into the parking lot." He scanned radio channels. Only morning Arabic talk shows full of complaining callers. "Why are so many foreigners working at the national university?" A speaker said in rapid Khaleeji dialect. "And why do I have to take the TOFEL to study at a university in an Arab country?"

Flavor set, and the story is distilled in the summary: `Against the glittering high-rises of the capital, Manu, a recent arrival from Nepal, drips his days away on a construction site, cut off from the world outside the labor camp. His sister despairs of finding him among the thousands of migrant workers flooding into the Arabian Gulf to build the country's infrastructure. Manu and Sanjana must keep their younger siblings out of poverty, even if at their own expense. Police captain Ali's hopes of joining the elite government forces are dashed when his childhood deformity is discovered. His demotion brings him face to face with a rising pile of unexplained dead bodies and also an aspiring journalist who is unlike any local girl Ali knows. In danger of flunking out of university, Maryam is searching for an original story that will appease her professor and keep her family's machinations for marriage in check. Can the unlikely trio fit the pieces of the puzzle together before agency thugs get to Manu?'

Very fine writing, this. Mohanalakshmi judiciously mixes languages to the stories authenticity and advantage. If this is Book 1 of a series, we are seeing the emergence of a very significant new writer. Grady Harp, August 15

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.