“Visions of a Summer Past” is the debut novel of Avishek Gupta. I have read Avishek’s short stories in the past and started reading his debut novel with certain expectations. The good news is that, his writing exceeds all my expectations.
The story chronicles the journey of a family across five generations, starting in the 40’s with the Partition as backdrop and ending in this decade. Selecting this as the premise of one’s debut novel, in itself, proves that Avishek is a gutsy author. When your canvas is so wide and varied, you need to not only develop characters that are true to the times and spaces they inhabit, but you also sign up for exploring the changing social, political and cultural milieu of a nation or nations as your story traverses through time. And this is where Avishek excels.
In his novel, you see the gradual progression of means of livelihood – farmers and landlords, independent practitioners of law, entrepreneurs, public servants, and practitioners of cutting-edge technology in a multinational corporation. He deftly portrays the challenging circumstances where his characters find themselves in all these professions through the ages – a city burning in the wake of partition forcing the landlord to abandon his property and heading to a land unknown, labour unrest destroying a successful pharmaceutical business, and conspiracies in the modern corporate.
You see the nature of political protests changing as you move in time and space – from Swadesis to Naxalites to Fidayeens.
Avishek’s writing prowess also shines through the vivid visuals and imagery he creates with an eye for details, taking the reader through Dhaka, Kolkata and Oxford of yore to the modern-day Manhattan, Somersville and San Francisco. Avishek is a highly imaginative and articulate writer – his writing gives the impression that he knows the lanes and by-lanes of all these cities like the back of his hand, which is a highly admirable quality for an author.
Avishek builds memorable characters, seeped in Bangaliyana. You realize that through changing circumstances across five generations in a family, what remains constant is love, attachment to the family, and the strength of one’s values. The love stories are beautifully handled. There are situations that tug at your heartstrings, like the pet dogs chasing the family leaving the village in Dhaka for an unknown land never to return, or, the police brutally killing a Naxalite on the cricket pitch inside a university.
The best part of the novel, which also forms the crux of the story, is an element of mystery and magic realism that spans the five generations of the family, and I will not give away spoilers, because the brilliant concept and the equally brilliant writing should be best left for the reader to savor. It takes you by surprise, and then draws you in, as the non-linear writing goes back and forth in time.
Avishek has set a bar very high for himself with his debut novel. I am now waiting eagerly to find out what he has in store next. I expect nothing less than ‘magic’.