Cover image for The seduction of silence
The seduction of silence
Le Hunte, Bem, 1964-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
San Francisco : HarperSanFrancisco, [2003]

Physical Description:
399 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
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Infused with the magic of India and the great mysteries of life, The Seduction of Silence follows the spiritual and emotional journeys of a remarkable Indian family through five generations.

Aakash, venerated sage and healer, is the founder of Prakriti -- an abundant farm in the Himalayas. From this soulful mountain home, his children embark on the journeys that will sway the destinies of future generations: gentle son Ram, whose fierce search for enlightenment will force him to choose between his family and his soul; daughter Tulsi Devi, whose convent schooling provides an unexpected, brutal education forever altering her life; Tulsi Devi's beloved first child, Jivan -- born in the waters of the Ganges, cruelly separated from his mother; and Aakash's granddaughter Rohini, who travels across the world on a painted bus to a new land and a new kind of freedom, immersing herself in the London of the 1960s.

With Rohini's daughter, Saakshi, the search for enlightenment comes full circle, and the great-granddaughter returns to her spiritual home -- the holy mountains of Prakriti, where their family story first began. Both magical and utterly compelling, this spellbinding novel interweaves family sagas with the richness of Indian mysticism, creating an intimate portrait of an unforgettable family.

Author Notes

Bem Le Hunte was born in 1964 in Calcutta, India. She was educated in India and England and is a graduate of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge with a BA in Social Anthropology and a doctorate in English Literature. Her books include The Seduction of Silence and There, Where the Pepper Grows. She works at the Centre for Journalism and Media at the University of New South Wales.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

India-born Le Hunte concocts a glorious melange of family saga, social commentary, and treatise on spirituality in her debut novel. Encompassing five generations, the story begins with Aakash, a patient teacher and ayurvedic farmer who joins his son in the search for pure Being, guided by "the power and potential of Silence," and ends with his great-granddaughter in childbirth, convinced that her newborn daughter has taken on Aakash's enlightened soul as her own. Three of the generations sandwiched in between contain an Indian-English marriage, and Le Hunte seems to draw parallels throughout the novel between this tightly knit, though contentious, extended family and the ongoing relationship between India and England during those same years. Each of these marriages eventually fails, torn apart by miscommunication, differences in values, and power struggles, echoing the political environment that surrounds them. But just as Aakash is inextricably linked to his family, speaking through a medium to his great-granddaughter years after his death, Le Hunte obviously feels that India and England, though deeply divided, are perhaps forever intertwined. --Deborah Donovan

Publisher's Weekly Review

Sydney-based writer Le Hunte makes her American debut with this story of several generations of Indian women who span decades and continents in their quest for enlightenment. In the 1930s, the sage and wealthy landowner and patriarch, Aakash, and his son, Ram, head for the highest mountain peaks in search of spiritual awakening, leaving behind Aakash's daughter, Tulsi Devi, and his rigidly traditional wife, Jyoti Ma, at the family's Himalayan farm. Tulsi Devi would have liked to go on a spiritual quest of her own, but instead is sent to a convent school at Lahore, where a traumatic incident lands her in a loveless marriage. She manages to imbue her daughter, Rohini, with a more independent spirit. Rohini becomes a doctor, but she also marries an Englishman, a move that leaves her estranged from all her family-except, that is, for the spirit of her grandfather Aakash, who communes with her regularly and guides her on her own spiritual path. The magic realist touches scattered throughout the novel have won Le Hunte comparisons to Isabel Allende and Salman Rushdie, but Le Hunte has a snappy, more commercial style (when Rohini tells her pregnant daughter to stop complaining, the acid-tongued daughter thinks, "Thanks, Mama. Can you remember to tell me your worst birth stories just before I go into labor? We'll put some time aside, OK?"). Those who are not yet weary of multigenerational women's sagas will appreciate Le Hunte's fluid storytelling and vivid scene setting. (Jan.) Forecast: This book, which launches Harper San Francisco's new literary fiction line, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writer's Prize in 2001 and has been attracting much attention in India. A five-city author tour will help launch Le Hunte in the U.S. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



The Seduction of Silence Chapter One Of all mountains, the Himalayas are the highest. They sit like a prayer table on the plains. The soil is closer to the Gods, the air purer, the mind clearer. There's a potency in the earth here - a quality of the Divine in everything that takes life. It was in the Himalayas, in the holy mountains of Himachal Pradesh, that Aakash chose to throw his first seeds into the earth on some land that had arrived in his care through Divine Grace. Many years earlier, when he was a boy, he had won this piece of land at a game of cricket in Chail. Not by winning the game, but by laying his hands on an injured hemophiliac boy and curing him of hemophilia altogether. An act of no consequence if the boy had not been the captain of the cricket team, and, more importantly, the son of the Maharaja of Patiala. Years later, when Aakash went up into the hills as a man, he was mesmerized by the beauty of this God-sent land. Awestruck by the Silence as he walked the mountaintops and valleys, divining the perfect place to build his house. There was one flat peninsula on the mountainside that begged for a home. From this place he could see layers of mountains on all sides, aspiring to greater and greater heights until they reached the snows. Scattered in the distance down the mountainsides were terraces which circled the hills like green tidemarks, villagers grazing their cows and goats, people washing their clothes in the river, wooden makeshift dwellings, tall pines and Himalayan weeds with the power to heal diseases that usually carried death sentences. The land he had been given was part of a mountain range whose tributaries trickled down to both the Ganges, river of Immortality, and the Indus, river of Civilization. In fact, if a tear was shed at the top of one ridge, it could have seeped through the soil to either of those two destinations. It was left for the Fates to decide. Aakash built a farm in these hills, which he named Prakriti, and he had an elephant that he named Ganesh. He didn't have a wife yet, but the elephant, along with the seeds and the power of his vision, formed the roots of future prosperity. The century was still young, India knew no assurance of independence, and success was a scarce resource, owned mostly by the British. Aakash felt lucky here, but the locals were too superstitious to call it luck. They always felt he had developed certain powers or sidhis. There was no explaining why rain clouds would hover over his farm well before the monsoons broke down in Delhi. No explanation why the household's vegetables were twice the size of those sold in any of the nearby market towns. Then he also had the power of Ganesh. The villagers regularly came to give his elephant prasad from their fields and receive a regal salaam in exchange. Govinda, the mahout who looked after Ganesh, was always treated with great veneration. People said that he didn't just know the traditional pressure points to command this prehistoric force of a creature, he also knew where all the sacred points were to be found. The places between the thick elephantine folds where time immemorial was carried. Time so old, it could be traced back to its source and back to the controlling forces of the universe. But success was a trifle for Aakash. He never sought it. He only thought how he could help his fellow countrymen. The planting of the seed was enough, and the shoots would be guided by the powers that be. His concern was to do his duty, and provide traditional medicinal herbs for those in need. In those days Ayurveda was often the only affordable medical option for the masses. Western medicine hadn't been widely accepted and took its place amongst the other magical treatments the local people practiced. In fact, if anything, there was a far healthier scepticism toward it, as many a patient had escaped their bodies under the pioneering knife of medical science. The seeds Aakash threw when he first planted Prakriti were later to be identified in Latin as substances such as Withania somnifera, Carum copticum, Glycyrrhiza glabra and many more. To Aakash they had greater affinity with the cosmic elements than with a botanical dictionary. They responded to the elements of earth, fire, water and air, and the way they replicated themselves as energy systems within the body. His ayurvedic herbs were the medicine of a nation that still held to ancient principles and trusted in the power of the Gods to potentiate their tinctures and cure their ills. When Prakriti started to reap a handsome profit, Aakash was visited by his father Rahul, with talk of marriage. He was twenty-eight years old and had never questioned the inevitability of marriage. But then neither had he for a minute entertained any concept of a wife. His food was cooked by Hukam-Singh; Deepika, the cook's wife, cleaned his farmhouse, and a rotating assortment of local and migrant workers helped him in the fields. Every need he had was satisfied. And whenever he required conversation, he would spend a few hours on the verandah talking to Govinda his mahout, or he would take a stroll in the moonlight to visit his friend Xavier, the Christian headmaster in the nearby village. When Aakash was visited by his father there were many long silences when Rahul turned their conversation to marriage. Many open-ended questions that hovered between thoughts. Rahul knew it wouldn't be easy to get an agreement out of his son. He knew also that no matter how well the farm flourished, it was his duty to find Aakash a wife. That there was no such thing as success unless a man was also "settled." If truth be told, even Rahul found it hard to imagine his son with a wife and family. As a child, Aakash was like a deer: self-contained; poised; silently watching the world from the intensity of his own space. He never tugged at his ayah's sari palla like the rest of the brood. Neither did he feel the need to communicate with any of his siblings until he was at least four or five, when years of silence were ended with complete sentences that seemed to be spoken by a child twice his age. Nobody quite understood Aakash, and Aakash had never felt a need to be understood. Like most parents in his situation, Rahul carried around the responsibility of his son's marriage like a piece of life's luggage. Only when he had successfully deposited this luggage would his load be lighter and his family responsibilities on earth be finalized. The weight of responsibility was far heavier than the feather-boned Aakash he had picked up in his arms the day he was born. And it weighed heavier still as his son's contemporaries garlanded each other and started having children. Organizing a marriage for Aakash was like throwing a stick up high into a tree and hoping it would land. Even Rahul didn't dare think about what that married life might entail. The finality of the ceremony itself would satisfy him, like a handover. The marriage he had in mind was with a family whom he didn't know too well, and that was not such a bad thing. They didn't know about Aakash and his unusual sense of detachment. The beard of a renunciant that he wore, and the eyes that looked only inward. This unfamiliarity was also an advantage for the family of the bride. They too had an ulterior motive for marrying into a completely unknown family. It was like a marriage made on either side of a screen, with each family parading a shadow puppet for the benefit of the other. When Rahul went to meet Krishna, the girl's father, he walked into a grand house in Amritsar, and was introduced to a beautiful, heavy-lashed, coy young Punjabi woman who held her head half-covered by her duppata and looked down at the ground. Sitting in the room with her was a cross-looking girl. The first one was introduced as Jyoti, or so he remembered, and the second one as Pyari. The two of them were soon ushered out of the room without either girl speaking more than a few words, and the two fathers continued with more formal discussions of marriage over tea and a game of chess. The bride's father telling of the dowry he had kept aside for his daughter, and Rahul talking of his job in the Maharaja's service and Aakash's prosperous farm in the hills. They could have been any two ordinary men arranging a marriage, except that each of the chess characters they wielded had secret motives moving them across the board. Krishna won the game, but nonetheless Rahul went away feeling elated with his own success and full of great anticipation on behalf of his son. He felt sure that this would be a match that would bring Aakash's attentions fully into the world. That he would be overcome with love for the gentle beauty who was soon to become his wife. When Aakash was brought to the wedding, fully veiled by garlands of flowers in his sehra bandi, he stood veil to veil with his future wife, Jyoti Ma. The two of them, decked in marigolds and moongra, walked barefooted around the havan fire seven times, tied together by their garments. The union was made according to the Scriptures, and according to the Stars, and only after the ceremony, when they were bonded as man and wife, did Rahul realize that there had been a bride "switch." That Jyoti Ma had not been the woman he had been led to believe would marry his son. The moment of truth dawned when the bride's veil was dropped, revealing the expression of someone caught between a bullfighter and a bull - angry, fearful and cross-eyed. Her warrior's wide nostrils were exposed. So too was her thin hair and the layers of ghee-filled flesh that fought their way over the hem of her sari blouse. The Seduction of Silence . Copyright © by Bem Le Hunte. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from The Seduction of Silence by Bem Le Hunte All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.