The Hero's Walk by Anita Rau Badami
Reviewed by Menaka Raman-Wilms
The Hero’s Walk is a book that explores the intricacies of family life. It delves into the emotions that govern relationships, and the ways in which those relationships can define who we are.
The book is set in rural India and follows the story of one family as they are faced with major upheaval. Sripathi Rao, a modest, ordinary man, learns that his daughter and her husband have died suddenly in Canada. His young granddaughter has been orphaned, and since Sripathi is now her guardian, she must come to India to live with her grandparents.
Sripathi and his family live together in their ancestral estate house in the village. It’s a strange new world for his granddaughter, Nandana, who is used to life in Canada and is still in shock from the death of her parents. The family tries to adapt to having her there, and Sripathi is dealing with the overwhelming guilt at having disowned his daughter years before.
Though the story focuses mainly on Sripathi Rao, there are also segments of the book that are told through the various perspectives of other family members, such as his unmarried sister, Putti, or his aging mother. These forays into other points of view allow the reader to engage with many of the characters, and, as a result, even minor characters are rich and fully formed. The world created by the book is easy to fall into.
Badami’s writing is seamless and wonderful. She’s able to create a delicate world that is rich with sensual experiences without being overdone. She maneuvers the complexities of dialogue particularly well: the way characters speak to each other captures the flavour of the language precisely.
The story also does a remarkable job of portraying the rhythm of life in India, from the slow, endless village days punctuated by gossip and rumours, to the propensity of people to gather quickly when they see a crowd. Badami effortlessly creates a world that is both tangible and vibrant.
At times, the plot can be slow to develop, as the story frequently goes into detail of different characters’ backstories. Though this level of depth does create a story that is both layered and complex, it often forces the reader’s focus away from the central plot, and can slow the momentum of the book.
One of the most interesting elements of The Hero’s Walk, however, is the way it reverses the typical story of immigration. In Canada, we are used to hearing tales of Indian immigrants learning how to adapt to life in North America, but having the opposite, a Canadian who must adapt to life in rural India, is rare. In this sense, Badami plays with the preconceived notions that this kind of immigration always moves in the same one direction.
This reversal of the expected plot also reframes Canada in a significant way. In most Indian-Canadian stories, Canada is the unknown, foreign land where people must learn to adapt to new ways of life. In The Hero’s Walk, though, young Nandana remembers Canada as her long-lost homeland. Instead of the immigrant’s nostalgia being rooted in India’s rural traditions or cooking, here it takes the form of chocolate donuts and thick winter parkas. It presents Canada in a way that we’re not used to, and allows us to experience the immigration process from the other side.
For this reason, The Hero’s Walk is truly a unique addition to the canon of Canadian literature. It’s a book that presents Canada as a longed-for homeland in its own right. This, in addition to its literary loveliness, makes it a very worthwhile read.
The Hero’s Walk was published in 2000 by Bloomsbury Publishing.