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Em and the Big Hoom, by Peter Yeung, Viking, RRP£14.99, 224 pages
“Home is not address, home is family,” opines an old hand in ward 33 of Bombay’s Sir JJ Hospital. This is fortunate, since the family in Jerry Pinto’s delightful debut novel occupies a shoebox of an apartment in a city notorious for its tiny flats.
Set in the 1980s, Em and the Big Hoom – as the two children’s parents are nicknamed – is a love story-cum-tragicomedy, whose pivotal narrative point is the moment when “someone turned on a tap” in Em’s head.
From the perspective of “Baba”, the son of the household, we discover the couple’s romantic beginnings, and how the bipolar disorder that leads to his mother’s stay in ward 33 – a ward for psychiatric patients – renders that past almost unrecognisable.
Pinto spent two decades on this book. It is written with genuine compassion and sincerity, while a sprinkling of black humour ensures it is never overly sentimental.