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Bombay Ice
By Leslie Forbes

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
$24

Reviewed by Therese Greenwood

Bombay Ice is a weird, dense tale based on Shakespeare's The Tempest and set, as the bard would have put it, in the "baseless fabric" of India's Bollywood film industry. A disconcerting tale, somewhat overwritten, it's not a mystery by any of the traditional definitions but rather a travel-book-cum-thriller, and a love letter to India. The plot wanders between illusion and reality -- "such stuff as dreams are made on" -- following the narrator's sensibility upon her return to her native land.

Rosalind Bengal, our self-destructive and self-absorbed narrator, is a radio journalist and producer for true-crime TV. After years in London, a letter comes from her half-sister Miranda, now married to a famous Indian film director, noting that "People tell me he murdered his first wife." What seems a rescue mission turns out to be Rosalind's search to understand her absent father and her suicidal, abusive mother. As to be expected in this tale, "what's past is prologue."

It's a deeply psycho-sexual tale ("Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows"), mingling the monsoon, transvestites, cobras, alchemy, physics and Chaos theory, with the reclaimed land that is Bombay ("Now would I give a thousand furlongs of sea for an acre of barren land!").

The author's wide and varied knowledge of these subjects and of The Tempest stuffs the book full as it languidly wends its way towards the inevitable and depressing tragedy. Unlike Shakespeare, however, the author offers us little in the way of life-fulfilling comedy. The ending leaves us certain that the book is "a brave vessel, who had, no doubt, some noble creatures in her, dash'd all to pieces."


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