Book review | Legal Fiction by Chandan Pandey
Author: Chandan Pandey
Genre: Legal Thriller, Suspense
No. of pages: 156
Published by: Harper Perennial India
Published on: 2nd July 2021
My rating: ★★★☆☆
A late-night phone call from his ex-girlfriend Anasuya forces writer Arjun Kumar to leave his wife and home in Delhi and travel to the mofussil town of Noma on the UP-Bihar border. The reason -- Anasuya's husband, Rafique Neel, a college professor and theatre director, has mysteriously disappeared.
Soon after he arrives, Arjun realizes that things are not as they seem: the police are refusing to register a missing-persons case, Rafique's student Janaki has also disappeared, and the locals are determined to turn it into a case of 'love jihad'. And when Arjun begins to dig deeper, what he finds endangers him and everyone around him.
Inspired by true events from today's India, Legal Fiction is a brilliant existential thriller and a chilling parable of our times.
Arjun, a writer based in Delhi, suddenly gets a call from his ex-girlfriend Anasuya at night. Anasuya's husband Rafique has been missing for a few days and no one, not even the police seem to pay any heed. A desperate and pregnant Anasuya could only think about Arjun.
When Arjun comes to Noma, a decrepit small town in the UP-Bihar border, he finds that instead of focusing on a missing person's case, the town in busy preparing for a local festival. The only people who seem to care are Anasuya and Rafique's students. When a Hindu female student goes missing, the locals fend it off as a case of "Love Jihad." But when Arjun starts investigating on his own using Rafique's diary, he realizes that the missing person case runs deeper than how it looks.
The premise of this book is extremely promising, the author craftily creates a story the highlights one of the most dangerous religio-political issue in India— Love Jihad. The story started out strong, giving us a mysterious vibe around the whole missing person issue. As we get introduced to new characters, it adds layers to the story, things start falling into place. But somehow it fails to reach a proper climax or give us answers.
Our protagonist, Arjun is the textbook definition of "spineless." In a way he's relatable, he doesn't want to get involved in whatever political game is going on with Rafique and his street play troupe, but his curiosity to know about Rafique's life gets the better of him. The story gives us the hard-hitting truth about what happens when someone tries to unveil the truth behind dirty politics played using religious sentiments.
Even though I know that the whole point of the book was to give us readers the reality, it felt so empty. Because... let's be honest the book doesn't give you the answers you want, it has an open-ended plot, so I felt highly unsatisfied. Just 156 pages wasn't enough for a story of this gravity, I wanted more— from both the plot and the characters.
The book has been translated from Hindi by Bharatbhooshan Tiwari. It's very crisp and clean. Nothing too hard nor too simple. Even though I feel that something might have been lost in translation, the simple short chapters and the lucid writing made it an enjoyable read.
Chandan Pandey is the author of three short-story collections and one novel in Hindi. He has won the Bharatiya Jnanpith's Navlekhan Award, the Shailesh Matiani Katha Puraskar, and is a recipient of the Krishna Baldev Vaid Fellowship.
Bharatbhooshan Tiwari is a writer and translator in Hindi and English.
I received a copy of the book in exchange of an honest and unbiased review