There is a simplicity to Mirage, this story of impoverished lovers whose brief happiness is cut short in the harshest of ways, which belies the skill of the telling. Set in a closed desert kingdom in our own times, it tells how Sayeed, a good but unexceptional man, finds love with a woman who would have been beyond his reach had not poverty and widowhood brought her low. It is a classic tale, in the style of D.H. Lawrence and Thomas Hardy, and set to become a kind of modern classic. The scene is set with unpretending tenderness: the hospital where Sayeed works, the kindness of his friends, the struggle to make a decent home for his new wife Latifa and her child, the bustle of his brother¿s home, the simple wedding. Heat, dirt and squalor are the backdrop to the tragedy, Latifa, confused and far from home, the terrified victim. Petty jealousy, sexual desire and religious fervour combine to bring her down and to leave the reader stunned. As the book ends, there is a sense of an unfinished story ¿ what will become of Latifa¿s child? How will she survive in the oppressive world her mother has left her in?
Mirage emerged from 1999¿s Booker judging as the unexpected favourite of the chairman, Gerald Kaufman, and other judges, just missing the final shortlist. It was later chosen by two of the judges, Boyd Tonkin and Shena Mackay as one of their books of that year. What made this championing of a first novel all the more surprising was the fact that it had been published by the author himself. Chandraratna plans to take up the story of Sayeed through the eyes of Latifa¿s little daughter Leila in the second volume of a proposed trilogy.
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