In 1985, an Air India flight leaving Vancouver, Canada blew up off the coast of Ireland. The majority of people on board were Canadians of Indian ancestry. It wasn’t until 2004 that two suspects were finally put on trial for what is the largest mass murder in Canadian history.
Ashwin Rao is an Indian psychologist who was trained in Canada but returned to India after the bombing took the lives of his sister and niece and nephew. But the trial brings him back to Canada, to do a study on comparative grief by interviewing people who lost a loved one in the attack. This brings him into contact with the Sethuratnam family, and their friend Venkat who lost his wife and son. As Ashwin becomes wrapped up in their lives, he finds himself trying to deal with the emotional fallout of his own loss.
The Ever After of Ashwin Rao by Padma Viswanathan looks at the emotions, grief, and recovery of one of the darkest days in Canadian history through the lens of fiction. In addition to following the political and cultural turmoil in India that were the reasons for the attack, the book takes aim at the failure of the Canadian government to respond to and show outrage.
The book travels through the decades and through the world to give a complete picture of the events that led up to the incident. I was surprised to find that Venkat and the Sethuratnams are given so much space in the book, however, their stories set against Ashwin’s show that grief and terror affect everyone differently.
This is a sweeping novel that covers so much culture and history and that is one of the strengths of the novel to me. I was too young to understand what happened at the time, but I know of the bombing because of the trial coverage. This book has filled in every gap for me and given me a much better understanding. It has certainly led to some outrage of my own to the way the Canadian government has handled the issue.
That being said, there was something missing to make this novel a favourite and I can’t put my finger on it. I know it lies in the writing style, there were parts that for me just dragged the story along. It wasn’t too much that it put me off wanting to finish the book, but it definitely took me longer to read than a book usually does. I also wonder how the book will appeal to people outside of Canada or India who don't already feel a connection to it, as I found the politics of the novel more interesting than the journey of the characters.
For me, this book is summed up in this quote - “Mostly, in those days, I was musing on how limited the catalogue is of horrors people have perpetrated on one another through history” (p. 229). Because of this, it is an important novel. From 1985 on, the Air India bombing has been viewed as another country’s problem. But no matter where their roots lie, the people on the plane and the people who perpetrated this crime were Canadian. It’s not their problem, it’s our problem. And as long as people continue to act in this manner toward others, the grief and emotions of it all will transcend borders.
I received a copy of this book courtesy of Random House of Canada. The opinions expressed above are purely my own.