As a thin ribbon of smoke rose from the edge something stirred in me and I slapped the book against the railing until small specks of fire fell to the floor and died down. It was not just a book of baby names. It was an unusual memoir my father was leaving behind, memories condensed into names; memories of many kisses, lovemaking, panting and feeling spent.
Can a life be like a jigsaw puzzle, pieces waiting to be conjoined? Like a game of hide-and-seek? Like playing statues? Can memories have colour? Can the sins of the father survive his descendants?
In a family – is it a family if they don’t know it? – that does not rely on the weakness of memory runs a strange register of names. The odd book of baby names has been custom-made on palace stationery for the patriarch, an eccentric king, one of the last kings of India, who dutifully records in it the name of his every offspring. As he bitterly draws his final breaths, eight of his one hundred rumoured children trace the savage lies of their father and reckon with the burdens of their lineage.
Layered with multiple perspectives and cadences, each tale recounted in sharp, tantalizing vignettes, this is a rich tapestry of narratives and a kaleidoscopic journey into the dysfunctional heart of the Indian family. Written with the lightness of comedy and the seriousness of tragedy, the playfulness of an inventive riddle and the intellectual heft of a philosophical undertaking, The Odd Book of Baby Names is Salim’s most ambitious novel yet.
There’s no other way to put it: Anees Salim […] is one of the most affecting writers working today. As prodigiously talented as he is, he is distinguished from contemporaries writing in English by his precision in identifying and then mining the deep fatalism that runs through the Indian psyche.Mint Lounge
Salim creates a detailed world for his protagonists, delving into their interior lives, looking back to look in. Memory is the leitmotif that runs through all his novels, a thread that binds the past and the future; the present is only as long as one inhabits it.Indian Express
When you read Anees Salim, the sense of time takes leave of you as the author sets about using his pen like a brush to etch out characters who are often at peace with the world but at war with themselves. Some mistake their disappointments for sorrow. Angst is indeed an abiding emotion in his works. Yet, it is seldom depressing. Melancholy is what stays with you as you cover his literary landscape. In fact, his pen transmits the joy of being sad.Frontline
About the author
Anees Salim’s published works include Vanity Bagh (winner of The Hindu Literary Prize for Best Fiction 2013), The Blind Lady’s Descendants (winner of the Raymond Crossword Book Award for Best Fiction 2014 and the Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award 2018) and The Small Town Sea (winner of the Atta Galatta-Bangalore Literature Festival Book Prize for Best Fiction 2017). His works have been translated into several languages.