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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Delinquent Chacha

Ved Mehta

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To purchase Delinquent Chacha

Title: Delinquent Chacha
Author: Ved Mehta
Genre: Novel
Written: 1967
Length: 110 pages
Availability: Delinquent Chacha - US
Delinquent Chacha - UK
Delinquent Chacha - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B- : some amusing incidents, but doesn't add up to a novel

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The New Republic . 13/5/1967 John Gale
The NY Rev. of Books . 29/6/1967 John Wain
The NY Times Book Rev. . 30/4/1967 Martin Levin
Saturday Review . 29/4/1967 Louise Armstrong
TLS . 26/10/1967 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A) series of anecdotes about a comical Indian Anglophile, loosely stitched together as a novel. (...) All of this inspires few chuckles because the author's approach is sluggish and more than slightly patronizing." - Martin Levin, The New York Times Book Review

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:

       Delinquent Chacha is a very slim novel. The narrator is Mohan -- also called 'Kaka' --, ready to set out from India to attend Oxford when the book begins. It is not his own story he relates, however, it is that of the family black sheep, one of his uncles, the eponymous Delinquent Chacha.
       While the rest of the family has done very well for itself, Delinquent Chacha failed from the beginning. Nevertheless, he continues to harbour grand ambitions, certain that with a bit of luck he will get what he deserves. Of course, luck is rarely on his side.
       Part of the problem with this book is that the narrator is rarely in the company of Delinquent Chacha, and thus witness to very few of the events that left Delinquent Chacha in his current situation. Hence, much is related by Delinquent Chacha himself -- in letters, or in one-sided conversation when the two do get together. This unreliable narrator is amusing enough -- and the gist of his failures comes across -- but there's little immediacy. Even when Delinquent Chacha comes to England, Mohan only sees him from time to time, and his occasional reports make it difficult to get much more than a snapshot-picture of what Delinquent Chacha's life is like. This may be authentic enough -- most people's lives take place apart from our own, with only intermittent updates as to what is happening with them -- but when the absent person is meant to be the central character of the book it can be frustrating.
       Similarly frustrating is the fact that narrator Mohan remains a cipher, relating almost nothing of his own experiences beyond his encounters with his uncle. He is also essentially uninvolved in the story itself: even when he is with Delinquent Chacha he offers almost no advice or suggestions as to how his uncle might avoid compounding the disasters he's bringing upon himself. The final line -- "Nothing I said could dissuade him from posting the petition" -- has Mohan finally at least trying to influence his uncle, but it can't make up for his unwillingness to speak up earlier. (Mohan is used entirely ineffectively a a narrator: he records what happens, but is so little involved in any action that he could just as well be invisible; any other approach would have been preferable.)
       Nevertheless, Mehta does offer some amusing anecdotes and stories -- tinged with just the right amount of melancholy --: Delinquent Chacha's failures do impress. And the anecdotes themselves are well-written: Mehta has an agreeable style. In the second half of the book, when Delinquent Chacha believes he has finally been summoned to his great triumph at Oxford, the looser story also comes together into a more convincing narrative, focussed on just recounting exactly what happens. Delinquent Chacha orders some fine clothes that he can't afford and is mistakenly thought to be someone considerably more important than he actually is (with Delinquent Chacha half-convinced of his own misrepresentations). Catastrophe ensues, and he even winds up on trial, sued by the tailor for the clothes he can't pay for. There's merriment in all this, and the trial is fairly amusing -- with Delinquent Chacha vindicated, in a manner of speaking -- but it still adds up to relatively little.
       Delinquent Chacha is like a character out of an early V.S.Naipaul novel, but Naipaul presents his stories far better. Mehta strings together some entertaining stories and anecdotes, but it doesn't add up to much of a novel. The choice of narrator (and how he tells the story) was probably fatal in any case, but regardless he would have had to flesh out the text more to make it a satisfactory work.
       Modestly entertaining, but little more.

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Reviews: Ved Mehta: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Indian literature

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About the Author:

       Ved Mehta was born in India in 1934 and died in 2021. He studied at Pomona, Oxford, and Harvard, and was a staff writer on The New Yorker. He is best known for his many autobiographical books, as well as for being blind.

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