Hey! I am Max and I will be reviewing The Punkhawala And The Prostitute By Wesley Leon Aroozoo today! I would like to thank the author for sending a complimentary copy of this book to me.
Beneath the façade of a land golden with opportunities dwell two destitutes shipped to Singapore in the late 1800s. Oseki, an ingenue forced into servitude as a karayuki, grapples with betrayal by her own father and transforms into a monster she can’t recognize. Gobind, a deaf convict from India, serves his sentence as a punkhawala to a tiger-hunting British master obsessed with killing Rimau Satan, the man-eating tiger; while on a hunt, his butchered memories lurk from the darkness, aching to pounce. When their paths intertwine, they face their inner demons to find humanity and their way back home.
“The Punkhawala And The Prostitute” was one of the 14 books I read last year, and even though it has been months since I last read it, I still think about the story and the characters to this day. It has somehow managed to uphold its image in my mind, and it definitely has something to do with the writing, the characters, and how the author – Wesley Leon Aroozoo – commanded how the story is told.
The writing of this novel is mesmerizing in a way that the author is able to switch effortlessly between the male and female perspectives without muddling their voices while alternating. Both of them have varied struggles, but their struggles overlap at a point where both characters desperately wish to be back in their homeland and regain the innocence that they have lost. Gobind, our male protagonist of the novel, is a deaf convict, and through his perspective, we are able to discern that he constantly merges reality with jagged past memories and a rewritten history of his life. Oseki, the female protagonist of the novel, is forced into prostitution in an unfamiliar land and is grappling with the betrayal of her father. Both of these characters intersect when a British hunter becomes obsessed with hunting and killing the Rimau Satan, a man-eating tiger.
Before reading this novel, I had not heard of a punkhawala, and I am glad that the author decided to write Gobind in this occupation to shed some light on its existence. In case you did not know, a punkhawala is a person who manually operates a traditional ceiling fan called a punkha, which is a type of fan that was commonly used in India during the colonial period. It consists of a long cloth-covered frame that is suspended from the ceiling and operated by a rope.
To add on to the writing of the book, it is worth noting that the author does not shy away from writing about the abuse and violence that these characters face. With trust waning and distrust arising throughout the years in a land unfamiliar to both of them, they confide (using the term loosely here) in each other even though it is unreciprocated on both sides. Gobind is deaf, so he does not communicate with Oseki, but he finds himself at ease in her presence.
Although Gobind’s perspective was well-written and chilling (especially when the history of his crime unfolded and the story led me to re-evaluate everything that had happened), I gravitated more towards Oseki’s story. To me, she had a stronger presence in the novel compared to Gobind, and her emotional turmoil and longings made for a deeper and gut-wrenching story. Also, both of the characters were written with great complexity and their psychological states were not surface level, but I was slightly more interested in uncovering Oseki’s role in the story, again, due to her stronger presence.
Before diving into the only flak I had for this book, I need to praise the writing for Gobind’s perspective. I absolutely adored how the author kept us in the dark about his past for so long and presented us with jagged memories and Gobind’s constant self-consolation thinking his every move is right, which blurred everything into a ball of confusion. It made a major impact on me when everything was revealed at the end of the novel. It boggled my mind, and I loved every second of it.
However, what I did not like about the novel was the ending. I would have preferred if the author had kept the Rimau Satan myth as, well, a myth. But that is not the case here. With the incorporation of the myth becoming a reality in the novel, it made the story seem superfluous and inconceivable. It served its purpose as a way to complete the arc of the characters, but it deprived me of any emotions that I had for the character that died.
In conclusion, I immensely enjoyed my time with this novel and I would love to read more books set in Singapore written by Singaporean authors in the future! So, the final rating is going to be: 84% (A).
This is the end of my review of The Punkhawala And The Prostitute by Wesley Leon Aroozoo! I hope you all enjoyed it and subscribe with your email/Wordpress account to get notifications when I post a new article! Bye!
3 thoughts on “The Punkhawala And The Prostitute By Wesley Leon Aroozoo | Book Review”
A wonderful review. You really made me want to read this book. Thank you for reviewing it.
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