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The Ever After of Ashwin Rao

af Padma Viswanathan

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465435,946 (3.55)5
Ashwin Rao is smart, funny, and perceptive, an Indian psychologist who is gifted at turning the fragments of his patients' lives into stories that help them heal. In 2004, almost twenty years after the fatal bombing of an Air India flight from Vancouver, two suspects - finally - are on trial for the crime. Ashwin decides to return to Canada, where he was trained, in order to interview the surviving families. A study of comparative grief, he calls it, pretending to keep his professional distance. Soon he is deeply embroiled in the lives of one extended Canadian family, whose members have staggered on in very different ways since the bombing, carrying their heartbreak and fear mostly in silence. Until we blindingly realise that he too has a secret.… (mere)
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A beautiful, complex "nerd novel" about a psychologist researching the effects of mass trauma in the aftermath of Sikh & Muslim pogroms in Delhi, and of the 1985 Air India bombing. An emotional AND intellectual dissection of grief with a focus on the intersection between personal and mass grief. (I wasn't thrilled with the way the ending was handled, but it's a big, ambitious book so I'll forgive it that flaw and give it five stars anyway) ( )
  smgaines | Nov 22, 2020 |
On June 23, 1985, Air India Flight 182 en route to London, England from Toronto, Canada exploded off the coast of Ireland. All 329 passengers and crewmembers were killed. Of those dead, 268 were Canadians. Yet, this tragedy received little outrage in Canada – these dead may have been Canadians by birth or choice but the colour of their skin marked them as ‘other’. To too many Canadians, this was an Indian disaster, not a Canadian one – Brian Mulroney, then Prime Minister of Canada, phoned the Indian President to offer his condolences. It would be almost 20 years before suspects were finally brought to trial. Although, there were several suspects, only one man would be convicted and then only of manslaughter and perjury. Author Padma Viswanathan uses the lack of outrage by the larger Canadian population as well as the lack of closure for the survivors as the backdrop for her novel, The Ever After of Ashwin Rao.

Ashwin came to Canada in 1969 to study medicine and psychology. He settled into Canadian life with a growing practice and a Canadian girlfriend. However, when his father falls ill, he returns to India and accepts a job there. It is a period of political unrest in India. When Indira Gandhi is assassinated in 1984, Sikhs are blamed, leading to violence against them. As the violence spreads to their neighbourhood, Ashwin and his father hide some of their Sikh neigbours but witness the murder of two men at the end of their street. In 1985, Ashwin’s sister plans a trip to India with her two children. Ashwin last speaks to her just as they prepare to leave to catch their flight on Air India Flight 182.

As the 2004 trial of the suspects finally begins for the bombing, Ashwin returns to Canada to do a psychological study of the survivors and their grief. He decides to keep his own loss a secret as he conducts the interviews. The novel deals mainly with two families: Venkat, a university professor, whose wife and son died in the crash, although only his son’s body was recovered and Seth, who worked with Venkat and whose family has taken responsibility to help Venkat as he slowly disappears into his grief. Ashwin’s own story becomes entwined with theirs.

The narrative shuffles back and forth from India to Canada as well as to Ireland and in time from before the bombings to the trials. It deals with the differences between Canadian-born Indians, those who immigrated to Canada, and those who remained in India in regards to issues like marriage, children, grief, and faith. It also contrasts the attitudes of other Canadians to the tragedy with the Irish who lived close to the crash site. Yet, despite the real disaster and its aftermath that are the background for this novel, this is neither a revenge story, a story of victimization, or a rejection of Canada despite its sorry attitude towards the crash and its victims or its tepid efforts to bring the guilty parties to justice. Viswanathan manages to give a nuanced look at what led to the tragedy as well as a very empathetic picture of how it affected survivors. Most surprising given everything that happened both in the reality of the disaster and in the novel, she provides a hopeful ending to the story. ( )
  lostinalibrary | Aug 12, 2015 |
I very much appreciated the discussion of the 1985 Air India plane crash. However, a novel is fiction. Too many pages in this book are a recounting of history, governmental bungling, political corruption, religion, science. The main character, Ashwin Rao, rarely rose above his function as a plot device. However well-written the sentences, however cleverly plotted, the book disappointed me as a novel. ( )
  brocade | Feb 5, 2015 |
I'm not sure how to rate this book, or even what to say about it. This was a Giller prize finalist last year, and it was the last of the six shortlisted books that I read. I found the book was extremely well-written, and Ms. Viswanathan is an author of some skill. But I found the book pretty hard slugging at times. There is a lot about East Indian religion that I found slowed down the book's pace considerably. The book is ostensibly about the surviving family members of the 1985 Air India plane crash. It certainly shows that home-grown terrorists and radicalized local terrorists are not a 21st century issue. They have been with us for some time. The book is certainly sad and heartrending, and often difficult to read since I'm afraid our Canadian government and CSIS, both past and present, don't come out looking very proactive. In fact, it doesn't appear that either took the bombing seriously when it occurred. Even though 329 people died in this bombing, no-one has ever been charged with the crime, and the only person who was put on trial for it received a not-guilty verdict. The timeline for the novel is actually 2001 - 2005, but Ms. Viswanathan manages to bring 1985 and the aftermath right after the disaster to the forefront for us through the eyes and pen of Ashwin Rao . Rao is writing a book about some of the victims families twenty years after the crash. He interviews some of the families who lost loved ones in the crash. I think the main thing that I took away from this book is that people touched by tragedy, especially sudden, violent tragedy, never really fully recover. At the very least they are forever changed by the event. This is an important book for Canadians to read. ( )
  Romonko | Jan 9, 2015 |
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Ashwin Rao is smart, funny, and perceptive, an Indian psychologist who is gifted at turning the fragments of his patients' lives into stories that help them heal. In 2004, almost twenty years after the fatal bombing of an Air India flight from Vancouver, two suspects - finally - are on trial for the crime. Ashwin decides to return to Canada, where he was trained, in order to interview the surviving families. A study of comparative grief, he calls it, pretending to keep his professional distance. Soon he is deeply embroiled in the lives of one extended Canadian family, whose members have staggered on in very different ways since the bombing, carrying their heartbreak and fear mostly in silence. Until we blindingly realise that he too has a secret.

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