After the release of Anita Rau Badami's critically acclaimed first novel, Tamarind Mem, it was evident a promising new talent had joined the Canadian literary community. Her dazzling literary follow-up is The Hero's Walk, a novel teeming with the author's trademark tumble of the haphazard beauty, wreckage and folly of ordinary lives. Set in the dusty seaside town of Toturpuram on the Bay of Bengal, The Hero's Walk traces the terrain of family and forgiveness through the lives of an exuberant cast of characters bewildered by the rapid pace of change in today's India. Each member of the Rao family pits his or her chance at personal fulfillment against the conventions of a crumbling caste and class system.
Anita Rau Badami explains that "The Hero's Walk is a novel about so many things: loss, disappointment, choices and the importance of coming to terms with yourself and the circumstances of your life without losing the dignity embedded in all of us. At one level it is about heroism - not the hero of the classic epic, those enormous god-sized heroes - but my fascination with the day-to-day heroes and the heroism that's needed to survive all the unexpected disasters and pitfalls of life."
About the author
Anita Rau Badami's short fiction has been published in The Malahat Review, Event, The Toronto Review of Contemporary Writing, and the anthology Boundless Alberta. She lives in Vancouver.
- Short-listed, Canada Reads
- Long-listed, IMPAC Dublin Award
Excerpt: The Hero's Walk: A Novel (by (author) Anita Rau Badami)
It was dusk by the time they got a bus to the beach. They made their way to the same secluded spot at which they had scattered Maya's ashes. The tide was coming in, curling waves lapped against their feet, and seagulls swooped and pecked at drying seaweed left on the sand. Further down, pariah dogs leapt at an upturned boat, trying to get at something dangling from the high side. Sripathi walked across the wet, squelching sand until he reached the water. With a sense of déjà-vu, he emptied the ashes and watched as they mingled with the waves. Poor Ammayya, what a long, unresolved life she had lived, he thought regretfully.He went back to the cluster of mossy rocks where he had left Arun and sat down beside his son. They stayed there until the moon appeared, a silver semicircle ringed with concentric rainbow light. It would be sunny tomorrow. In the thick darkness the sea was luminous, a body of motion, living, mysterious, beautiful."You go home if you want to, Appu," said Arun, his arms locked around his raised knees on which he rested his chin. "I want to watch the turtles coming in.""How do you know that they will be here today?""A few arrived yesterday and usually the rest follow soon after.""I'll stay with you," said Sripathi after a moment's hesitation. He had lived all his life beside this same sea, and he had never spent an entire night watching it as it poured over the sand and sucked away, leaving a wavering lace of froth that it retrieved almost immediately.The moon rose higher in the sky, the beach emptied slowly, and one by one the last of the vendors turned off their Petromax lanterns and left. Now all they could hear was the susurrating of the wind in the brief stand of palm trees behind them. Suddenly, out of the sea, a dark form detached itself and staggered slowly up the damp sand. And another and another. Dozens of them. No, scores. It seemed to Sripathi that the beach itself had risen up and was rippling away from the water."Can you see them?" whispered Arun. As if the turtles would be scared off by his voice when they carried the thunder of ancient waters in their small, swivelling heads.They poured across the sand, wobbling and swaying, a humpbacked, crawling army drawn by some distant call to the shore on which they were born fifty, one hundred, two hundred years ago, to give birth to another generation. Across the water line they surged, each an olive-green dune in slow motion, until they were well out of reach of the waves. They stopped one by one and began to dig cradles for their eggs-their thick stubby hind legs powerful pistons spraying sand into the air-grunting and murmuring, moaning and sighing as they squatted over the holes and dropped their precious cargo.Arun leaned over and whispered, "Each of them lays at least a hundred to two hundred eggs, Appu."Sripathi nodded, too moved to comment. How many millennia had this been going on? he wondered, humbled by the sight of something that had started long before humans had been imagined into creation by Brahma, and had survived the voracious appetite of those same humans. In the long continuum of turtle life, humans were merely dots.
Soon the turtles were done and began to churn up the sand again, covering the holes, tamping them down tight, with slow, deliberate movements. And then the swaying trudge back to the gleaming sea. Sweeping their hind legs to erase every trace of their arrival, as meticulous as spies in foreign lands."See how cunning they are," whispered Arun again. "They are making sure predators don't find their nests by following their footprints."The last of the turtles disappeared into the waters as silently as they had arrived. They would never see their babies hatch, would not return for one full year to lay another batch of eggs at the edge of the sea that had been there longer than even they had. Their young might live or die. The eggs they left with so much care might yield another generation of turtles-or not. Sripathi thought about the chanciness of existence, the beauty and the hope and the loss that always accompanied life, and felt a boulder roll slowly off his heart.
(c) 2000 by Anita Rau Badami
"Engrossing…. Badami brilliantly brings to life a whole cast of [characters]…. The author masterfully captures the sights, smells and sounds of this lively world without overwhelming readers. A welcome, sly humor runs throughout…. This book demands to be read straight through…. "
—The Washington Post
"A skilled writer can convey epic events through the lives of ordinary people. Badami's The Hero's Walk, which deals with the transmutations of a millennia-old culture, is an outstanding example of such skill."
—The Commonwealth Writers Prize judges
"The Hero’s Walk is beautifully crafted- rich and lush, though sometimes anthropological, distracting, even. It offers bittersweet epiphanies amidst life’s tragedies and showcases a novelist on the move."
—Bill Richardson, The Georgia Straight
"The Hero’s Walk is a wonderfully textured tale whose poignant events are imbued with truthfulness. Its sly wit and penetrating insights illuminate a bittersweet story which brings its reluctant characters close to redemption. It is a chronicle that echoes what Graham Greene once called the random shrapnel of human experience."
—The London Free Press
"Sensitive, sensual and brilliantly imagined…a family story which will enrich and amuse you."
"She has an amazing knack for hauling together the beauty, mess, joy and folly of ordinary people’s lives."
—The Hamilton Spectator
"The four-year wait for The Hero’s Walk was worth it. This is an unforgettable and heart- wrenching tale…."
—The Ottawa Citizen
"One of the may strengths of this novel is how the author reaches deep into her characters, shares their surface and more profound thoughts and emotions, and conveys them to the reader."
"Vitriol, in all its ravishing, stomach-churning splendour, is the river upon which flows Anita Rau Badami’s second novel….."
"What a treat it is to read Anita Rau Badami…. The Hero’s Walk is a novel of a traditional, nearly anachronistic, stroytelling-as-transport kind; an escape, an entertainment — that mere but elusive thing most of us, after all, are seeking in good fiction…. After gaining fame with Tamarind Mem, Anita Rau Badami doesn’t disappoint with her new novel."
"[A] big-hearted and compulsively readable novel… that ends in a highly satisfying way…. [Badami is] a gifted observer of the human comedy."
—The Toronto Star
"Badami willfully spurns her cleverest perceptions in The Hero’s Walk"
—The Globe and Mail
"Her first novel was good, her second is marvellous…. Badami’s psychiological insight illuminates every scene [and] breathes authentic life into her characters…. Badami is a first-rate novelist. Read it."
"Badami writes unflinchingly about a man both disappointed and disappointing. In her capable hands Rao is … entirely human, and vividly rendered…. This is Badami’ s talent for storytelling: she imbues every sentence with compassion…. her easy way with narrative weaves a rich and textured history, and she holds its various strands just taut enough…. Badami exercises control, playing out the consequences a little at a time, and then a little more. Badami may have made her name with Tamarind Mem, but it is The Hero’s Walk that will carry that name."
—Quill & Quire (starred review)
"It runs only 350 pages but it is as satisfying as a story twice as long."