Thanks to a local independent book store, Silent Winds, Dry Seas – the debut novel by Vinod Busjeet – was on my radar among books being published in August. Once it was out, I decided that the audiobook version might be the most satisfying format, and I’m glad I chose to read it that way. The narrator, Mahesh Jadu, did an excellent performance, and I believe he elevated the novel that much more.
|Silent Winds, Dry Seas by Vinod Busjeet|
|Format I Read||Audiobook|
|Original Publication Date||August 17, 2021|
A sweeping debut novel that explores the intimate struggle for independence and success of a young descendant of Indian indentured laborers in Mauritius, a small multiracial island in the Indian Ocean.
“The beauty of Busjeet’s splendid, often breathtaking book is, like the best stories of journeys to young adulthood, the precious and well-observed and heartbreaking details of day-to-day life.” (Edward P. Jones, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Known World)
In the 1950s, Vishnu Bhushan is a young boy yet to learn the truth beyond the rumors of his family’s fractured histories – an alliance, as his mother says, of two bankrupt families. In evocative chapters, the first two decades of Vishnu’s life in Mauritius unfolds with heart-wrenching closeness as he battles to experience the world beyond, and the cultural, political, and familial turmoil that hold on to him.
Through gorgeous and precise language, Silent Winds, Dry Seas conjures the spirit and rich life of Mauritius, even as its diverse peoples live under colonial rule. Weaving the soaring hopes, fierce love, and heartbreaking tragedies of Vishnu’s proud Mauritian family together with his country’s turbulent path to gain independence, Busjeet masterfully evokes the epic sweep of history in the intimate moments of a boy’s life.
Perhaps my first observation when I began Silent Winds, Dry Seas is that, although it is a novel, the way it’s presented feels more like a collection of short stories. Each chapter is told from the perspective of Vishnu, and they do mostly work their way forward in time, from Vishnu’s early childhood through his years in college. However, each chapter really stands on its own and contains its own story arc, themes, and message. There aren’t cliffhanger endings at the close of each chapter; there isn’t a chapter-to-chapter momentum rushing you through the book. Instead, each chapter tells a complete story, a snapshot of a particular time in Vishnu’s life, a particular theme he focuses on. As such, you can take your time with this book, allowing each chapter to sink in before moving on to the next.
When I started this novel, I admit that I knew virtually nothing about Mauritius. Perhaps that’s part of why I wanted to read it: I love learning about different countries and cultures, and fiction can be the most rewarding way to do so. I appreciate how Vinod Busjeet provides such a sweeping and immersive look into the nation’s history, politics, culture, and people. Vishnu offers a child’s perspective, often innocent and rarely judgmental. Because of this, the reader is able to draw conclusions along with him. We get to know more about Mauritius as he does, learning along with him.
Indeed, Silent Winds, Dry Seas is both educational and absorbing. I enjoyed the chance to learn more about Mauritius. For example, I wasn’t aware that Mauritians are largely descended from India, and fairly recently, too. Based on that, from their appearance, Mauritians may look Indian, yet their country is off the southeastern coast of Africa. And due to different colonizers in the nation’s past, they also speak several languages, including English, French, Mauritian Creole, and Bhojpuri.
Due to the aforementioned format, Silent Winds, Dry Seas is able to contain numerous themes, each highlighted in its own chapter. Early on, one of the most difficult themes is domestic abuse. Vishnu is only a child, observing the affects of domestic violence on a young married woman who lives nearby. He’s powerless to help her, and even years after her suicide, he continues to think of her.
Another theme is politics and the move to make Mauritius an independent nation. Not only do we see two disparate sides of the political spectrum here, we also get a chance to learn about the country’s recent history. Later, we see corruption in another form: academia. Despite being near the top of his high school class, we watch with dread as Vishnu is denied a scholarship, then a visa, to attend good schools in England or France. Because of his family’s poor background, he’s effectively trapped, held back from his full potential. Later, when Vishnu is a student in the United States, we see him learn to work with his hands, better manage his money, combat racism and general ignorance, and eventually take his first steps as a college graduate.
While most of the chapters are fairly long – giving ample time to draw out complete stories and themes – some of them are remarkably short. In the audiobook, some were only a minute or two (perhaps a couple of pages in the physical book). These ones felt more like tiny flashes of memory, a sort of stream-of-consciousness idea that is incomplete yet still impactful.
Because I read Silent Winds, Dry Seas as an audiobook, I have to give immense credit to the narrator, Mahesh Jadu. I’m no expert on Mauritius or the various languages and accents used throughout the book, but to my ears, the narrator did an excellent job. He swiftly transitions into French and Mauritian Creole, easily adopts different accents depending on where the character is from, gives characters distinctive voices. It’s always easy to understand which character is speaking. Further, his narration is overall quite calm and soothing, yet still nuanced enough to hold the listener’s attention. He elevated this novel, and I’m glad I chose to listen to this as an audiobook.
Silent Winds, Dry Seas is a contemplative and immersive book, both a novel and almost a collection of short stories. Vishnu is a bright and enjoyable character, and I loved getting to know more about Mauritius through his eyes. I hope Vinod Busjeet continues writing because I would be happy to read more from him.
About the Author
Vinod Busjeet was born in Mauritius, a multiracial island in the Indian Ocean. He holds degrees from Wesleyan University, New York University, and Harvard University and spent twenty-nine years in economic development, finance, and diplomacy, holding positions at the World Bank, International Finance Corporation, and as a secondary school teacher in Mauritius. He lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife. This is his first book.
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