Leila review: Prayaag Akbar's chilling dystopic debut novel


Prayaag Akbar

Leila. By Prayaag Akbar.

Faber & Faber, $24.99

Shalini, the narrator-heroine of this accomplished debut novel, has had her little daughter taken from her and has been punished by the state, in a dystopian near-future. She has crashed from her privileged life as a young wife and mother to a solitary life among the outcasts of an unnamed city that seems a blend of Delhi, Mumbai, and Kolkata. Or perhaps the real point is that it doesn't matter, for global cities are becoming more alike. Prayaag Akbar uses the Indian caste system and builds on its hierarchical divisiveness to create a society in which everyone must be labelled by categories and sub-categories of race, religion and family, and movements around the city are strictly monitored. The story also incorporates the rise of populist nationalism, and its society has embraced the chillingly Nazi-flavoured slogan "Purity for all".

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