Book review: One Small Voice by Santanu Bhattacharya

One Small Voice skilfully interweaves the coming-of-age story of Shubhankar Trivedi (Shabby) with a backdrop of communal violence which touches his life in significant ways.

Shabby grows up in Lucknow in a family clinging precariously to middle-class and Brahmin status (his choice of nickname is in part a way to distance himself from a name that proclaims his background). His parents push hard to give Shabby and his brother the one thing they can – an education.

As a child Shabby is aware of other cultures – he attends a Christian school, there are Muslims in the town. But as violence against Muslims in Gujarat fills the news, ten-year-old Shabby witnesses a horrific act by a mob and this trauma changes him, and his perceptions of those around him. Unable to tell his parents what he has seen, or comprehend the complicity of people they know and respect, he takes the guilt and blame upon himself.

Later, as an adult in Mumbai, he is caught up in another terrible act of violence and experiences life-changing injuries. One Small Voice moves between two timelines. One is the aftermath of the injury. The other is his life from childhood up to that point, with the truth about what happened unfolding through the narrative.

While One Small Voice is driven by the theme of communal violence it is much more than an issues novel. It’s also a beautifully written exploration of family life, and of Shabby’s struggle to reconcile his parents’ expectations with a rapidly changing culture.

Shabby’s adult life in Mumbai is apparently much freer than his parents’. He works for an American company, he lives with friends, he mixes with people from different backgrounds. However, their apparent freedom and tolerance is still constrained by the darkening political landscape.

What I like most about One Small Voice is that it’s a powerful story about one man’s trauma and recovery, but it’s also a vivid depiction of his world. From the pressure on Shabby and his peers to succeed, and the way they cope – or fail to – to the small details of their lives, it’s a novel that stays with you.

I received a copy of One Small Voice from the publisher via NetGalley.
View One Small Voice on Goodreads


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