Thursday, September 02, 2010

Johnny Gone Down - Karan Bajaj

Price – Rs. 99
Over twenty years and 324 taut pages, Nick Arya goes from being a young MIT graduate with a promising NASA career in hand, to a player in a game of chance unhesitant to put a gun to his own head.
Nick's journey begins on the day of his graduation when, on a whim, his friend Sameer picks Cambodia as a holiday destination little knowing that the country was at that very moment, being taken over by the Khmer Rouge. Nick helps Sameer escape, but he himself is captured. When he does escape Phnom Penh, it is into a life that reboots itself every few years with a different alias in a new location.
Nick discovers a quiet resilience that becomes invaluable in the years to come as he loses an arm to gangrene, falls in love, becomes a Buddhist monk, becomes an accountant to a drug empire, fathers a child and loses everything many times over.
Nick's character arc is intertwined with those of many others - Dechen the Buddhist monk in Thailand, Lara the supermodel from Brazil, Marco the druglord, Philip North a struggling entrepreneur in Minnesota and Dayaram, his opponent in the game of death in India - and Nick is transformed by these intertwinings even as he radically changes their lives in the brief period he knows them.
At every step, the book challenges the reader's tendency to stereotype people, places and situations, but most of all, the mindset of a Non Resident Indian protagonist. Nick has an all-encompassing world view, yet, he also draws into his life the very events that break and make him over and over again. Nick makes sacrifices but is human enough to acknowledge the regret of having made them. He steadfastly refuses to own anything and is most content owning only the clothes on his person as he charts his rocky destiny through Cambodia, Thailand, Brazil, USA and finally, India. 
An edited version appeared in Culturama's September 2010 Issue

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