When the return of a ‘twin’ casts a deadly shadow

This is an expansive family saga steeped in Hindu traditions.

Banaras, Varanasi, Kashi — India’s holy city on the banks of the Ganges has many names but holds one ultimate promise for Hindus — it is the ultimate place where pilgrims come for a good death, to be released from the cycle of reincarnation by purifying fire.

As the dutiful manager of a death hostel in Kashi, Pramesh welcomes the dying and assists the families bound for the funeral pyres that burn constantly on the ghats. “The soul is gone, the body is burnt, the time is past; detach.”

After 10 years in the timeless city, Pramesh can almost persuade himself that here there is no past or future. He lives contentedly with his wife, Shobha, his young daughter, Rani, the hostel priests, his hapless but winning assistant, and the constant flow of families with their dying.

But one day the past arrives in the lifeless form of a man pulled from the river – a man with an uncanny resemblance to Pramesh. Called “twins’ in their childhood village, he and his cousin Sagar were inseparable until Pramesh left to see the world and Sagar stayed back to look after the land.

After Pramesh married Shobha, defying his family’s wishes, a rift opened up between the cousins ??that he had long since tried to forget.

For Shobha, Sagar’s re-emergence casts a shadow over the life she’s built for her family. Soon, an unwelcome guest takes up residence in the death hostel, the dying mysteriously continue to live and Pramesh is forced to confront his own ideas about death, rebirth and redemption.

Told in lush, vivid detail with an unforgettable cast of characters, Priyanka Champaneri’s “The City of Good Death” (Penguin) is a remarkable debut novel about family and love, memory and ritual, and the ways in which we honour the living and the dead.

Priyanka Champaneri received her MFA in creative writing from George Mason University and has been a fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts numerous times. She received the 2018 Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing for the manuscript of “The City of Good Death”.