book review

Book Review: Transmission


This book by Hari Kunzru was a surprise pick for me. I had never imagined that this little bundle of just about 280 pages will have such an entangling effect on me. The back cover of the book says “Welcome to the Twenty-First century, where everything and everyone is connected…”. And this is exactly what the book aims to do and quite successfully delivers.

The book snaps in and out of the lives of its three protagonists – Arjun Mehta, a cyber geek based out of the Indian city of Noida who moves to the US in the hope of a better future, Leela Zahir, the newest face of Bollywood and belonging to the ever increasing race of vulnerable and naive actresses dotting the silver screen and lastly Guy Swift, head of an innovative marketing agency, or so he thinks mired in a battle with his own demons.

The book opens with a brief introduction to all three of its main characters and leaves the reader with a faint glimpse of the life and aspirations of each one of these. Arjun Mehta, lands in the US through a job interview for a computer engineer where he is all set to become as or richer than the cousin that he has been compared to all his life. The way he envisages life in the US and the way it unfolds in front of his eyes bring out the dichotomy of the American Way of Life just as his life as an anti-virus engineer is just about to take shape.

Leela Zahir’s life was no different from that of the latest blockbuster face of the mass entertaining Bollywood flick. She catapulted to fame through her girl-next-door does eyed looks in Naughty Naughty Lovely Lovely and since then there has been no looking back. She has been the leading lady in runaway hits such as Kiss Me Tickle Me, High School Hearts and Home of the Heart and with a loving and over protective mother (read over zealous) she has everything that is required to be the reigning queen of hearts in an industry where dreams are sold every Friday. Leela’s life was obviously more than what it seemed and it quietly unfolds in the Scottish isles where is shoots for her upcoming Tender Tough.

Guy Swift was the quintessential entrepreneur who knew exactly what he was doing and why he was doing what he was doing. The complicacy of the predicate intentionally reflects the complicacy of the subject (pun intended). He runs a marketing agency named Tomorrow* which is “different from other agencies. It produced results”. His demanding relationship with his girlfriend Gabriella and his venture capitalist Yves kept him in a constant conflict zone with himself and the world around him. The nuances of his character come out beautifully through his instant dislike towards the Eastern European front desk staff at his million pound London apartment – Eastern Europe doesn’t say customer service to him. This feeling reverberates when he meets a Eastern European stripper at a Brussels bar – not customer a customer service voice, but sexy potentially.

The best part about Transmission is how the author seamlessly transitions from one character to the other in the narration. The story takes pace as a deadly virus spreads across the world and the different lives of the till now far apart characters slowly start merging into each other. The way the book ends however may leave the reader with wanting a lit bit more, mainly around how the virus keeps spreading without a cure and the way Mr Swift gets swept off a neighbourhood in Brussels mistaken for a migrant. I would however recommend this as a good read just for the sheer fluency of plot and the way it juxtaposes the susceptibility of one Leela with the fierceness of the other, its namesake.

My rating 3.5 / 5

Buy it on Amazon : Transmission by Hari Kunzru


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