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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

    

Friend of My Youth

by
Amit Chaudhuri


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Friend of My Youth



Title: Friend of My Youth
Author: Amit Chaudhuri
Genre: Novel
Written: 2017
Length: 164 pages
Availability: Friend of My Youth - US
Friend of My Youth - UK
Friend of My Youth - Canada
Friend Of My Youth - India

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Our Assessment:

B+ : nicely casual and breezy, but with considerable depth to it

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 30/8/2017 Jon Day
The Hindu . 1/4/2017 Vaishna Roy
The NY Times Book Rev. . 25/3/2019 Jamie Fisher
The Spectator . 26/8/2017 Boyd Tonkin
TLS . 26/9/2017 Kate Webb


  From the Reviews:
  • "Friend of My Youth is a taut, efficient book: part novel and part manifesto. It presents itself as a work of fiction about friendship, the experiences of youth and the city of Mumbai, but really itís a kind of anti-novel: a book about the failures of fiction to account for the realities of memory." - Jon Day, The Guardian

  • "The prose is precise, finely honed, sparse and ruthless in self-examination. Chaudhuri is a miniaturist, noticing every tiny detail and carefully assembling them into his mosaic. (...) And yet, when you leave the book you realise that Bombay has not really made an impression upon you, nor has Ramu, the friend of Chaudhuriís youth, the drug addict who never made anything of himself. They remain elusive, almost shadowy, the backdrop upon which the writer attempts to map his own mind, his predilections and prejudices" - Vaishna Roy, The Hindu

  • "The novel is intermittently satisfying, at times arresting. At its best, it feels as vigorously empty as a Japanese watercolor, at its worst like a demoralized Lonely Planet guide (.....) Chaudhuri has been called Proustian, but he is less interested in recalling a past era than in evoking its absence. There are traces all over the novel, nudges and snatches and hints, but they only add up to a ghost." - Jamie Fisher, The New York Times Book Review

  • "However you classify it, this journey through the traces of his past earns its literary sleight-of-hand. (...) Wherever he wanders, from park to club to restaurant to bookshop, the narrator registers changes, in himself and in this richer, brasher metropolis -- but also continuities." - Boyd Tonkin, The Spectator

  • "Friend of My Youth is virtually plotless (.....) But these unremarkable scenes do not mean that the novel is uneventful: the drama of the self, spun from Chaudhuriís meditations and recollections, is artfully composed and utterly absorbing. At the heart of it are two shifting relationships: one with the city, which, he comes to understand, he knew very little of in his privileged youth; the other with his turbulent friend Ramu." - Kate Webb, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The narrator of Friend of My Youth eventually catches up with himself and his undertaking, describing near the end how he is writing a novel with a title taken from an Alice Munro story that he hasn't read. He muses about (t)his book:

     The book is a novel. I'm pretty sure of that. What marks out a novel is this: the narrator and the author are not one. Even if, by coincidence, they share the same name. The narrator's views, thoughts, observations -- essentially, the narrator's life -- are his or her own. The narrator may be created by the author, but he is a mystery to him.
       The narrator of Friend of My Youth shares the author's name (surely no coïncidence), and is biographically indistinguishable from him (down to the book they're writing ...); the action -- insofar as one can call it that -- in the book has the narrator travel to Bombay/Mumbai, where he grew up, to read from his novel, The Immortals, a novel author-Chaudhuri also has on his résumé; the same goes for several other titles that are mentioned. So, while Chaudhuri claims a fundamental difference between figures of 'narrator' and 'author', there's no avoiding the fact that in this case they are, at the most obvious levels, very similar, if not identical.
       Chaudhuri fictionalizes -- lightly -- his life here -- a sliver of the present, and a wallow in the past -- and part of the appeal of the exercise is in the awareness -- both author's and reader's -- of this being an exercise in fiction. Chaudhuri's narrator is a version of Chaudhuri -- but even as he hews close to real-life experience and fact the character escapes him, taking on a shape of his own: it's the transformation writing forces on any subject matter, allowing it a life of its own. The narrator here, in his peregrinations, has a slightly bemused feel to him, and one senses author-Chaudhuri does as well, as he watches -- and writes -- his character going his own way (even as he has him follow in his footsteps, as it were).
       Not much happens in Friend of My Youth. The narrator travels to Bombay and putters around before his book-event. He runs an errand for his mother, exchanging a pair of shoes. He checks in at the club his father was a member of, right by where they used to live. He is interviewed by a journalist. He visits some shops, snacks and eats in different places, and returns also to the Taj hotel -- the place of the 26 November attacks, the place marked even more distinctly (if also recently) into a before and after than the rest of a very changed city he encounters. In a short second part of the novel the narrator returns to Bombay with his wife and daughter a month later, staying at the Taj this time.
       The narrator grew up in Bombay, before going to England to study and eventually settling in Calcutta. Long away from Bombay, it nevertheless is filled with memories for him, and much of Friend of My Youth is a stroll through the past and the way the city has changed. Accompanying him, in thought and then eventually in person, is a childhood friend, Ramu -- the friend of the title. The narrator encounters other figures from the past, including other schoolmates, but Ramu is the only one he has stayed in closer touch with that figures in this story.
       When he arrives, Ramu is in rehab; he's long had issues with drugs. He's led a fairly aimless life; now with his father dead he has a small inheritance; he's considering being a tourist guide. For most of the novel, the narrator and Ramu drift through the city like two flâneurs -- specifically inhabiting that slightly unreal role. Indeed, part of what the narrator enjoys about spending time with Ramu -- in the distant days of youth as well as now -- is that ability to just drift: "This precious wastage of time".
       The narrator is not deeply nostalgic, but he does notice and reflect on the changes to the city -- reminded also of how limited his view and experience of it back in his childhood and youth was. He's fascinated by it, but is also coolly-reflective; he's not particularly invested in the changes, or the past. In some ways, the city is an ideal locale for him: "Bombay, history's very antithesis" (as he notes: "I am resistant to history").
       Occasionally, the narrator shows a bit of a sense of purpose -- he's annoyed how hard it is to find copies of his novel anywhere, an apparent failure of the book distributors -- but mostly he's satisfied going with whatever flow develops, experiencing this mix of memory and the new. Chaudhuri displays a light touch -- there's practically a bounce to his, and his narrator's, steps, and they skirt along on the surfaces, not bogging down in any thought or experience -- but there's still a nice resonant depth to the novel. Bombay, and also Chaudhuri, remain elusive -- but then both cities and people are constantly changing, ungraspable in their essence. Ramu, shadowy and adrift, is a useful accompanying figure, compounding this feeling.
       It makes for s a neat little work, delicate and simple, but also quite profound.

- M.A.Orthofer, 7 March 2019

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Links:

Friend of My Youth: Reviews: Amit Chaudhuri: Other books by Amit Chaudhuri under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Indian author Amit Chaudhuri was born in 1962. He graduated from University College, London, and received his doctorate from Oxford.

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© 2019 the complete review

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