French Lover

French Lover is a fiction novel written by famous author, Taslima Nasreen. I happened to read its english translation by Sreejata Guha. The novel was first published in 2001 and is probably based on the reminiscence from the author’s stay in Paris following her persecution and exile in Bangladesh. I found this novel wandering on the footpath of Park Street, Calcutta, the city which shares the soul of this story with Paris.

French Lover is the story of Neelanjana, a Calcutta woman who has recently been married to an NRI named Kishenlal from another community and has moved to Paris. She finds her new life suffocating and yearns to escape from this loveless marriages. Finally she leaves the home of Kishenlal and her life undergoes an unbelievable transformation. She gets into relationships, first with another woman and then with a French man. In her quest for love, she explores life and liberation. But as her journey into the life proceeds, she realizes is that this is not all she wants from life, that there is more to be discovered. French Lover tries to trace this trail of Self Discovery.

This book is a mixed affair, in the sense that it brings feelings in the reader which are equal and opposite. There are a number of things which work and there are some which don’t.

When compared to the earlier novel of Taslima, the much acclaimed Lajja, this is undoubtedly better in the “production value”. At times, the author is able to bring the soft feelings of womanhood beautifully through her characters. However, the novel has serious flaws – it stereotypes to the point of being ridiculous. Indian Woman: the typical poor tear jerking non entity whose emotions are crushed under the boots of the patriarchal society; Indian Man: crude, uncouth,  insensitive and lecherous; Indians: unsophisticated, undisciplined and orthodox. The characters other than the protagonist have been fleetingly sketched. You see them as not what they are but what they should be according to the author’s perception. The cliché is so in the face that it often reminds you of a typical 1990s movie from Bollywood. Not what one would expect from Ms Nasrin.

The Second problem with the book is the flatness of the whole premise. Probably due to its underlying bias, the novel lacks the depth of character that should be associated with the work of an established writer like Taslima. Nila does not stand out all; she is more like a log of wood drifting aimlessly with the current. She yearns for freedom yet never shows a temperament for independence. She yearns for true love which she finds in India but actually falls for the First french guy who notices her. She remains a non entity and would have been pushed to extinction had it not been a cheque for a hefty sum of money which her dying mother conjures up for her. Although you feel sympathy for her, yet you do not feel for her.

Set in two magnificent cities, French Lover fails to bring out the best of either of them. Although there are occasional flashes of brilliance, like the parts with Nila and her mother; yet I remained largely unimpressed. Life is full of problems anyway and if it had to be a sad story, I would have preferred real tears instead of forced glycerine.

Details

Book: French Lover – A Novel
Author: Taslima Nasrin
ISBN: 0143028103
ISBN-13: 9780143028109, 978-0143028109
Binding: Paperback
Publishing Date: 01/22/2002
Publisher: Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd
Edition: 01
Number of Pages: 304
Language: English