Wings Of Silence by Shriram Iyer

(Silverfish, in association with Westland, $20)

This imperfect, engaging novel from Bangalore-born, Melbourne-based writer and singer Iyer treads the career path of two brothers with diametrically different lives.

Saurav is bright, personable, gifted. Raj is hearing-impaired, an outcast, a born loser. But Saurav won't let him lose.


In spite of family indifference or outright hostility, especially from their inflexible, war-hero father, he sets out to help Raj achieve his impossible dream - competing in the 1980 Olympic marathon.

Saurav himself seems set to be a successful tennis pro, which means we get to hear a lot about grips, top-spin, "cleverly-angled forehands". But he pushes it all aside to save Raj, who is depressed and distressed enough to have considered suicide.

So a wild-card Wimbledon gives way to training in the United States. Raj's coach drops dead, which is damned inconsiderate of him. The Russians invade Afghanistan, which is even more inconsiderate, since it threatens Raj's chance of Olympic participation.

But personal persistence, plus unabashed political corruption and a substantial number of relatives' rupees overcome all obstacles, and he eventually runs in Moscow.

Does he win? Would I tell you?

It's a narrative of affection between characters and for characters, a warm book quickened by protagonists and an author with the best of intentions.

You meet a gaudy, generous cast: enjoy Ma, expert in knitting and embroidery, reassuring Saurav that he's not going bald at the age of 10. The mechanically-structured plot holds a redemptive motif of loyalty and love.

By any conventional literary standards, Iyer's writing struggles. It's often stilted and artificially formal. Sentences are so grammatically elegant, they lose all life. People move and declaim with the theatricality of Bollywood movies.

Dialogue is improbably flawless: "Even after this feat, he was economical with his expression"; "You must do what is important in your life, and nothing makes me happier than seeing you do well".

But the good end happily, in spite of the plottings of various lurid villains, who even stoop to clandestine laxatives. The bad end chastened or furious. All of this is satisfactory.

David Hill is a Taranaki writer.