The Sixties were a time of revolution and change around the world. The social, political and cultural shake up of the era has a long shadow; one that we see glimpses of even today. For me, a child of the 90’s, the 60’s were the days of my parents’ childhood years, a place that I visited vicariously through their memories. When I got a chance to read Harp by Nidhi Dalmia, set in that era, I hoped to get a more immersive experience.
Harp follows the young and idealistic Ashok on his travels through Europe as as international student and as a business owner after his return to India. It tracks his wonder and admiration as he experiences the psychedelic atmosphere of Europe in the Sixties and explores his new freedom. While in Poland, he comes in contact with Lauren, a musician who plays the harp, and they fall in love. Their separate goals pull them apart, but they remain in love with each other. Will they both ever meet and live happily ever after?
Unfortunately, Harp was just not the book for me.
The first half of the book that deals with Ashok’s travels through Europe, elicited some interest from me, but a writing style that was more ‘telling’ than ‘showing’ and the relentless focus on Ashok’s romantic conquests, made it a difficult reading experience. The author has attempted to recreate the Europe of the sixties, and to some extent manages to do so, but in the end the lack of descriptiveness and clunky pacing were a let down. I found myself skipping passages, and sometimes even chapters out of boredom. What he tells us about the Sixties, we already know. There was no new insight for me personally.
I did not particularly like Ashok as a character either. I could not empathize or identify with his world view and his concerns and often found him annoying.
More interesting than Ashok, are his sisters Neeru and Gita, whose stories appear as minor diversions from Ashok’s story. Their stories, even though they don’t step out of the country, are more “happening” than Ashok’s on his trip through Europe. Unfortunately, they hardly ever appear.
In fact, the book on the whole flunks the Bechdel test. The sixties were the era of second-wave feminism, with women experimenting with and exercising their freedom in all spheres. In the Harp, this is restricted to sexual freedom, with the women existing only as props for Ashok to flirt and dance with. They barely talk, and when they do it is usually about Ashok, or romance or something equally “feminine”. They neither do nor say anything memorable. Even Lauren, a woman with a career as a musician, is shown to think or care only about her love life. Aparna, (Ashok’s 5th or 6th love interest, I lost count at some point) begins as an interesting character, with an interest in a business of her own, but she too eventually becomes a prop to Ashok.
Perhaps a another reader may enjoy reading the Harp, but for all the reasons above, it failed to strike a note with me.
FTC disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from Blogadda as part of their book review program, in exchange for this honest review.
Author Bio: http://gunnidhidalmia.com/about/