Cover image for The cauliflower : a novel
Title:
The cauliflower : a novel
Author:
Barker, Nicola, 1966- , author.
Edition:
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Henry Holt and Company, 2016.

©2016
Physical Description:
291 pages ; 24 cm
Summary:
"From Man Booker-shortlisted, IMPAC Award-winning author Nicola Barker comes an exuberant, multi-voiced new novel mapping the extraordinary life and legacy of a 19th-century Hindu saint. He is only four years older, but still I call him Uncle, and when I am with Uncle I have complete faith in him. I would die for Uncle. I have an indescribable attraction towards Uncle. It was ever thus. To the world, he is Sri Ramakrishna--godly avatar, esteemed spiritual master, beloved guru (who would prefer not to be called a guru), irresistible charmer. To Rani Rashmoni, she of low caste and large inheritance, he is the brahmin fated to defy tradition and preside over the temple she dares to build, six miles north of Calcutta, along the banks of the Hooghly for Ma Kali, goddess of destruction. But to Hriday, his nephew and longtime caretaker, he is just Uncle--maddening, bewildering Uncle, prone to entering ecstatic trances at the most inconvenient of times, known to sneak out to the forest at midnight to perform dangerous acts of self-effacement, who must be vigilantly safeguarded not only against jealous enemies and devotees with ulterior motives, but also against that most treasured yet insidious of sulfur-rich vegetables: the cauliflower. Rather than puzzling the shards of history and legend together, Barker shatters the mirror again and rearranges the pieces. The result is a biographical novel viewed through a kaleidoscope. Dazzlingly inventive and brilliantly comic, irreverent and mischievous, The Cauliflower delivers us into the divine playfulness of a 21st-century literary master"--
Language:
English
Geographic Term:
ISBN:
9781627797191
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

"Maddening, funny, playful and beautiful...Barker has once again invigorated an old form -- the historical biographical novel -- through electric wit and sheer bedazzlement."
-- The Washington Post

To the world, he is Sri Ramakrishna--godly avatar, esteemed spiritual master, beloved guru. To Rani Rashmoni, she of low caste and large inheritance, he is the brahmin fated to defy tradition. But to Hriday, his nephew and longtime caretaker, he is just Uncle--maddening, bewildering Uncle, prone to entering trances at the most inconvenient of times, known to sneak out to the forest at midnight to perform dangerous acts of self-effacement, who must be vigilantly safeguarded not only against jealous enemies and devotees with ulterior motives, but also against that most treasured yet insidious of sulfur-rich vegetables: the cauliflower.

Rather than puzzling the shards of history and legend together, Barker shatters the mirror again and rearranges the pieces. The result is a biographical novel viewed through a kaleidoscope. Dazzlingly inventive and brilliantly comic, irreverent and mischievous, The Cauliflower delivers us into the divine playfulness of a twenty-first-century literary master.


Author Notes

Nicola Barker is the author of more than ten novels, including The Yips (longlisted for the Man Booker Prize), Darkmans (shortlisted for the Booker and the Ondaatje Prize and winner of the Hawthornden Prize), Clear (longlisted for the Booker), and Wide Open (winner of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award), and three story collections, including Love Your Enemies (winner of the PEN/Macmillan Silver Pen Award). Her work has been translated into over a dozen languages. She lives in London.


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

A nineteenth-century Hindu mystic, his devoted nephew, and a powerful, generous woman philanthropist are at the center of Barker's (Darkmans, 2007) biographical novel. Rani Rashmoni, widowed with a vast fortune, follows a higher order to build Dakshineswar Temple on a Ganga tributary to serve Kali, the many-limbed, dark-skinned goddess of destruction and creation. Here, the mystic who will become known as Sri Ramakrishna will undergo his dozen years of ecstatic trances and become the temple's spiritual guru and main attraction for pilgrims and followers. Much of the master's story is told through journal-like entries from his nephew, Hridayram. Barker's telling is both deeply researched and imagination-drenched, and playful in language, tone, time line, and structure. (To first introduce us to the super-earthly temple grounds, a circa-1855 Indian swift equipped with a camera, the likes of which have yet to be invented, flies over Dakshineswar while a narrator explains what readers are looking at.) Plot is not the propulsion here, but readers of mashed-up historical fiction, those interested in nineteenth-century Bengali culture, and Barker's many adorers won't need convincing.--Bostrom, Annie Copyright 2016 Booklist


Publisher's Weekly Review

Barker's (Darkmans) antic, irreverent historical novel examines the life of real-life spiritual leader Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886). The book takes a nonchronological approach to biography, jumping from point to point and leaving the reader to hang on for dear life. Gradually, however, an image of the man begins to emerge, in all his contradictory glory. Though he's seen from several points of view, the central one is that of his harried nephew Hridayram, who dedicates himself, not entirely happily, to ensuring the survival of a "delicate flower" of a man who falls almost daily into ecstatic trances, suffers extreme flatulence when exposed to "that most fateful of vegetables, the cauliflower," and only maintains his position at the temple devoted to the worship of "Black Mother" Kali through the indulgence of wealthy patron Mathur Baba. Barker lightens the mood further with passages from the point of view of a bird flying through the compound and a list of "Twelve slightly impertinent questions about Ma Kali" such as "Why is her hair such a dreadful mess?" Beneath the jaunty surface, the novel explores important questions about the nature of religious experience. (Aug.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Library Journal Review

What turns a mere mortal into a divinity? In this reimagined life of the guru and philosopher Sri Ramakrishna (1836-86), Barker (The Yips) turns a modern lens on the past in an attempt to separate man from myth. The legend may have begun with -Ramakrishna's tendency, from an early age, to fall into trances and lose consciousness. There was also his ever-present smile, an infectious laugh, and healing powers. Much of his story is presented here by Ramakrishna's devoted nephew and minder, Hriday, who describes a life of paradoxes. Disdaining money and worldly attachments, -Ramakrishna nonetheless benefits from the largess of wealthy benefactors Rani Rashmoni and her son-in law, Mathur Nath Biswas, who provide him with comfortable living quarters, servants, and exquisite places of worship. Although he suffers from lifelong indigestion and can eat only the blandest foods, he adores sweets and accepts them readily. And while he shuns sensual pleasures, he agrees to a betrothal to a five-year-old girl, although marriage comes much later and is reportedly chaste. VERDICT It may help to have an interest in Indian mysticism and the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna to appreciate fully Barker's imaginative novel, but the guru's message of love, tolerance, peace, and kindness should resonate with most readers in these somewhat dark days. [See Prepub Alert, 2/21/16.]-Barbara Love, formerly with Kingston Frontenac P.L., Ont. © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.