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Rivers Run Back: A Bewitchingly Narrated Story of Intrigue and Crime

June 7, 2017 | By

An engrossing and in-depth review of Joyce Yarrow and Arindam Roy’s cross-cultural saga of crime and intrigue, ‘Rivers Run Back’

Rivers Run Back
Authors: Joyce Yarrow and Arindam Roy
Published by: Vitasta Publishing Pvt. Ltd
Date of Publication: January 1, 2015
ISBN: 13978-9382711551
Pp: 400
Available on: and

David Bleich, a renowned modern literary critic, draws a line of demarcation between text and interpretation by saying that ‘the former is symbolisation and the latter is resymbolisation.’ The mindscape of the reader of Rivers Run Back is carved, that too profoundly, by the impression that the ‘text’ is unalterable and fixed, and a thousand readers could not alter a single word in the text, and meaning can be derived by applying to the text ‘operations and conventions which constitute the institutions of literature.’ But, despite the fact that reading invites the subjectivity of the reader and the objectivity of the text together; despite the fact that the collision of the written text with the unwritten text varies from reader to reader; despite the fact that, in Iser’s analogy of two people looking at the same cluster of stars, seeing two different images, that of ‘a plough or a dipper’, Rivers Run Back shares its interpretative experiences as ‘the shared subjectivity of readers’ evoke ‘the collective similarity of response’ amongst the readers. This is the latent prowess and innate power of the text, dexterously woven by two wordsmiths, Joyce Yarrow and Arindam Roy, who have been wedded to words long.
“Don’t judge a book by its cover” that weighs heavy upon the collective unconscious of our psyche does not hold water in case of Rivers Run Back. The cover of Rivers Run Back, gilded with the catchy and pithy title readies the reader to dive into a mythological and psychological river and drift along its serpentine waters with its yearning to run back at different geographical spots, symbolising the deep introspection experienced by all human beings cutting across the ambit of sex, culture, religion and nation.

The book is a saga; yes a “cross cultural saga of love, crime and intertwined destinies”, a bewitchingly narrated story of intrigue and crime spanning two generations and two geographical realms, deftly crafted out of the symphonic harmonious tapestry of two writers, an Indian and an American, loaded with two different legacies and inheritances. The reader catches the sight of both mystery-wallowed and journalism-peppered language and incidents in the novel. The novel engrosses the reader, owing to its linear, compact, terse narration which allows the reader to assume the stance of a linear reading not only to the novel’s plot from “left to right”, from beginning to end, but also of the interpretative experience. This close reading of events offers the sense of a closed ending of the novel. The journeying of the reader through various geographic-temporal locations, through Allahabad, Shamirpet, Dubai, New York, Vancouver enables the reader to delve into the inner recesses of the characters’ psyche and purloins the vexations, troubles, and intricacies which the grey-matter of their mind is filled with. The plot of the novel, being cross-cultural and cross-continental, cuts across the borders of Asia, America and Africa as well holding the mirror of human life seeps deep in the mind with intrigue, philosophy, crimes like drug-trafficking, smuggling etc. It can be averred that while wading through the written pages of the novel, the reader is engrossed in the plot in such a mesmerising way that he/she forgets that he/she is reading a novel, on the contrary, feels as if he/she is in a theatre watching all the incidents happen before the eyes.

I don’t want to fall to the ‘intentional fallacy’ Wimsatt and Beardesley denigrates, but reading the novel meticulously, the intention of the writers seems to weave the warp and weft of a character- driven story. It is but expedient to hold that the brilliant characterisation hitches the reader to all the characters, large and small, so demurely that the reader unwittingly eavesdrop what the characters do, see and feel. Again the beauty of the characterisation lies in presenting the characters not larger than life. Characters build and grow in multidimensional ways, albeit without transgressing their respective spheres. The reader is juxtaposed to the novel’s three main characters, Shankar Chaterjee and Marilyn Benson (the two protagonists) and Narsimha Sastry (antagonist). Shankar, a professor of anthropology, born in an affluent middle class family, is complacent with the career that matches his academic interests. Marilyn has to come to terms with her personal inner demons which she outwits to reap the laurels of her potential. The most intriguing and interesting character in the novel is Narsimha (the lion), who like Heathcliff of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, born in utter ignominy, deprived of familial succour, support and love, because of his tainted DNA is pitted against the fate he is in for and is hurled into the under-surface crime world. Sophocles’ saying that ‘chance rules our lives’ sticks fit on the character of Narsimha. In the denouement, Narsimha echoes the tragic realisation, ‘anagnorisis’, like that of a tragic hero of Greek tragedies or that of Dr Faustus’ vain and useless remorse, when he is spine-chillingly writhing in repentance. Despite Narsimha’s villainous character, the reader is forced to empathise with him till the end when he appears an innocent cherubic baby once again. Then there is Padma and Leela, who are drawn into the fray of grappling with their psychological demons, who are intricately entwined with the life of Narsimha that leads to disastrous results, but they are “strong personalities committed to their own paths through lives-diametrically opposite. Not two sides of the same coin, but rather two ends of the same magnet.” It is through the presentation of characters that the novelists have succeeded in peeling off the surface and surfacing various evils such as caste, taboos, social mores, flesh trading, impoverished condition of women trapped in flesh market where they are treated as vendable commodities and chattels.

Expatiating on the language and style of the novel, it has been earlier said that the novel has been co-authored by two such wordsmiths who have been wedded to language and know all the subtleties, intricacies and dexterity of language. The language and style of the novel bears testimony to the linguistic acumen of the authors.
To put it short, it can be said that the novel is a worthwhile and riveting read. It is a book that stamps an indelible impression on the mind of the reader. Joyce Yarrow and Arindam Roy should not keep the readers waiting long for a sequel to this bewitchingly beautiful book.

Thwarted Escape: A Cathartic Memoir – Book Review

A Kashmir University Gold medalist (2002) in English Literature, Wani Nazir, from Pulwama J&K India, is an alumnus of the University of Kashmir, Srinagar. Presently working as Lecturer English in the Department of Education, J&K, he has been writing both prose and poetry in English, Urdu and in his mother tongue Kashmiri. He is a voracious reader and reviewer. He contributes his brain-children- his poetry and prose, in Kashur Qalm and The Significant League, and has been receiving laurels for his writings.
All Posts of Nazir Wani

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One should control one’s thoughts carefully so as to direct the life towards the positive and let our thoughts shape our life. One should think constructive and work towards it and should refrain from developing and nurturing negative thoughts.