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The Hero's Walk

Cover of The Hero's Walk

The Hero's Walk

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."

From the Hardcover edition.

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."

From the Hardcover edition.

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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One 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,...
About the Author-
  • Born in the eastern town of Rourkela, Badami spent her childhood drifting around India as her father, a mechanical engineer and train designer, was transferred frequently. Her family moved at least eight times before she was twenty. Since her parents both spoke different Indian dialects, English was the bridging language for the family. (Badami's second language is Hindi.) The convent nuns who took care of her schooling were not always a receptive audience for Badami's budding literary talents. "Dear child," one of her teachers commented in response to a writing assignment, "what big lies you tell. Please ask your mother to see me." At school the nuns taught Greek and Roman myths, and even Celtic tales. "The only mythology I don't remember learning in school was Hindu mythology," Anita recalls. At home, however, Badami was immersed in the cultures and myths of her family and the multilingual railway workers. This mélange of myths informed Badami's formidable storytelling ability and shaped the exploration of heroism that runs throughout her latest novel.

    In 1991 Anita Rau Badami left Bangalore in southern India to join her husband in Calgary, where he went to pursue his Masters in Environmental Science and then to Vancouver for a PhD in Planning. Arriving with their four-year-old son and five hundred dollars, the family was soon ensconced in a depressing basement apartment. To earn money, the former journalist, ad copywriter and children's writer ended up selling china in a mall. Of this time, Badami says, "I learned an awful lot about figurines and place settings, but I also made the most wonderful friends."

    Badami began taking creative writing courses and wound up with Tamarind Mem, her master's thesis project at the University of Calgary. She sent the manuscript to Penguin Canada and quickly found herself a bestselling author with a reputation as a talented new Canadian writer. Her stories of home and away, of here and there, made her a part of the tradition Badami refers to as the post-postcolonial-immigrant school that began with Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children. "I don't think I could have written a novel if I had not left India," Badami said in an interview with The Globe and Mail. "I find that the distance gives me perspective and passion. I was twenty-nine years in India and ten years here, so I have a foot in India and a couple of toes here. I am both doomed and blessed, to be suspended between two worlds, always looking back, but with two gorgeous places to inhabit, in my imagination or my heart."

    Just after the publication of The Hero's Walk, Anita Rau Badami won the prestigious Marian Engel Award, given to a Canadian woman author in mid-career for outstanding prose writing. (Previous recipients include Carol Shields, Jane Urquhart, Bonnie Burnard and Barbara Gowdy.) Most recently, The Hero's Walk was optioned for film by a Canadian producer of See Spot Run Films in Los Angeles.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from April 1, 2001
    The flowering of young writers of Indian origin continues with Badami's deeply resonant debut novel, which places her in the ranks of writers like Jhumpa Lahiri, Akhil Sharma and Manil Suri. The scion of a once wealthy, now down-at-the-heels Brahmin family, Sripathi Rao lives in the crumbling family manse in a small city on the Bay of Bengal. At 57, Sripathi is ill-tempered, emotionally constipated and a domestic tyrant a man riding for a fall. He struggles at a mediocre job to support his dragon of a mother, unmarried but lovelorn 44-year-old sister, subservient wife and layabout son. It's the perfect setup for a domestic comedy, until fate intervenes with the sudden deaths of his daughter, Maya, and her husband, in Vancouver. Guilt-ridden for having refused to communicate with Maya because she humiliated him by marrying out of her caste and race, Sripathi brings his seven-year-old orphaned granddaughter, Nandana, back to India. Badami's portrait of a bereft and bewildered child is both restrained and heartrending; Nandana has remained mute since her parents died, believing that they will someday return. In his own way, Sripathi is also mute, unable to express his grief and longing for his dead daughter. This poignant motif is perfectly balanced by Badami's eye for the ridiculous and her witty, pointed depiction of the contradictions of Indian society. She also writes candidly about the woes of underdevelopment the "stench of fish, human beings, diesel oil, food frying," poor drains, chaotic traffic and pervasive corruption. In the course of the narrative, everyone in Sripathi's family undergoes a life change, and in the moving denouement, reconciliation grows out of tragedy, and Sripathi understands "the chanciness of existence, and the hope and the loss that always accompanied life." A bestseller in Canada, where it was a Kiriyamaa Pacific Rim Book Award finalist, Badami's novel will delight those on the lookout for works by writers on the crest of the Indian wave. Author tour.

  • The Toronto Star

    "A big-hearted and compulsively readable novel ... [Badami is] a gifted observer of the human comedy."

  • The Telegram (St. John's) "A powerful heady mix of brilliant characters, poignant reality, and a rare depth of emotional integrity and commitment ... This is a book you will want to explore and savour."
  • National Post "What a treat it is to read Anita Rau Badami ... The Hero's Walk is a novel of a traditional, nearly anachronistic, storytelling-as-transport kind; an escape, an entertainment--that mere but elusive thing most of us, after all, are seeking in good fiction."
  • Ottawa Citizen "An unforgettable and heart-wrenching tale."
  • Bill Richardson, The Georgia Straight "The Hero's Walk is beautifully crafted--rich and lush ... It offers bittersweet epiphanies amidst life's tragedies and showcases a novelist on the move."
  • The Hamilton Spectator "[Badami] has an amazing knack for hauling together the beauty, mess, joy and folly of ordinary people's lives."
  • The London Free Press "Its sly wit and penetrating insights illuminate a bittersweet story ... [This] is a chronicle that echoes what Graham Greene once called the random shrapnel of human experience."
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