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Ghachar Ghochar

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A young man's close-knit family is nearly destitute when his uncle founds a successful spice company, changing their fortunes overnight. As they move from a cramped, ant-infested shack to a larger house on the other side of Bangalore, and try to adjust to a new way of life, the family dynamic begins to shift. Allegiances realign; marriages are arranged and begin to falter; and conflict brews ominously in the background. Things become “ghachar ghochar”—a nonsense phrase uttered by one meaning something tangled beyond repair, a knot that can't be untied.

Elegantly written and punctuated by moments of unexpected warmth and humor, Ghachar Ghochar is a quietly enthralling, deeply unsettling novel about the shifting meanings—and consequences—of financial gain in contemporary India.

118 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2013

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Vivek Shanbhag

16 books228 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,279 reviews
Profile Image for Ariel.
301 reviews64.2k followers
June 20, 2017
This is exactly why I love short books. With 119 pages Shanbhag managed to completely enthral me, had me nodding along, basically had me going "oooo!" and "ahhhh!"

This is a story about how a family goes from poor to rich and how it completely tears them apart. Not in a "everyone hates everyone because they're now spoiled rotten" way, but in a "how does a family that worked together as a community rewire itself to work as a family that is made up of individuals with no interdependence?" .... FASCINATING!

Money is a conversation I wish we were all having more. It's an integral part of our everyday lives and it can affect relationships and lives in so so so many ways. It touches each of us, but we're al scared to talk about it! It's frustrating, and this book shows why it can be talked about and why it should be. I definitely look forward to Vivek's next English translation!

Check out my video review: https://youtu.be/E_nS4ASoLIc

Profile Image for Seemita.
180 reviews1,589 followers
April 8, 2017
At my touch, the striking cover of this book leapt up and stood suspended at my eye-level. As if to escape this loggerhead-state, I bored through its skin amid a question - what does this image wish to convey? Unity? Mess? Greed? Asymmetry? Power? Victory? Abandonment? Confusion? Culture? Habit? All? None? Not quite able to coalesce all these floating words into a single bubble of appreciable mass, I threw aside my pondering gauntlet and opened the first page. I began reading, and read a little more; continued reading and didn’t pause till it was the last page. Once done, I closed the book with trembling hands and clutched it tight for what seemed like a long time. It had become a precious possession.

Ghachar Ghochar is a colloquial phrase meaning ‘messy’ or ‘entangled’. The common connotations have their bearing on life, events and relationships; and in this book, on a family. This tale follows the trail each of the six family members charts out, during the ascent of the family from a middle-class lifestyle to a wealthy, high-society one.
Appa* enjoys our current prosperity with considerable hesitation, as if it were undeserved. He’s given to quoting a proverb that says wealth shouldn’t strike suddenly like a visitation, but instead grow gradually like a tree.
As the family nucleus begins to feel the forces of societal and cultural dynamics, our gentle, simpleton narrator, a son of this family, is sucked into a tenebrous whirlpool of prosperity and dilemma, fighting the internecine pull of avarice and egomania. The clashes of principles, the displacement of priorities, the upheaval in expectations and the soaring of temperaments erect a series of invisible walls, within the walls of the household, holding their own by the continuous tending of monetary venom.

The splendour of this work doesn’t lie as much in the plot as it does in the narrative; a narrative exemplified by the acutely heightened sense of observation, of aesthetic, cultural and psychological nature. By cleverly deploying a well-ordered collage of ‘a bright patch behind a dusty calendar’, ‘a ring of stain beneath a sipped cup of tea’, ‘a curd-smeared hand going dry during a tense conversation over dinner’ and many similar visuals, Shanbhag highlights, almost in an unassuming, understated way, the cultural nuances of a Indian Kannada family. The narrator, in his late-twenties or early-thirties perhaps, is the quintessential conchoidal make, grappling for balance and soaking in chaos with equal gusto. That a closely-knit family fabric can sustain independent creases and tears, visible only to its custodians and continue maintaining oneness in the outsider’s eyes finds a beautiful, photographic parallel in the ants’ trail:
It didn’t seem like they were here to find food. Nor did they have the patience to bite anyone. Left to themselves, they’d quickly haul to particles of mud and built nests here and there in the house. You could try scuttling them with a broom, but they’d get into a mad frenzy and climb up the broom and on to your arm. Before you knew it, they’d be all over you, even under your clothes. For days on end there would be a terrific invasion, and then one day you would wake up to find them gone. There was no telling why they came, where they went. I sometimes saw them racing in lines along the window sills in the front room, where there was nothing to eat. Perhaps they were on a mission of some sort, only passing through our house in self-important columns. But not once did I see the trail of a column, an ant that had no other ants behind it.
Such observational impeccability is just not the direct derivative of an extremely hungry eye but also of a consistently evaluating mind. Shanbhag doesn’t simply paint a picture for the reader to come, see, comment and leave; he renders the picture a voice. It is as if he calibrated the picture with a multi-dimensional brush so that at close proximity, the events would spring out of their base and present themselves upon you for further chiselling, your way. The equanimity to sacrifice an ornate climax in favour of a pragmatic one puts him, for me, in the league of R.K. Narayan and Ruskin Bond; one who chose to accord pride to the entangled mess of a life rather than an ironed plume of its dubious reflection.

[Note: *Appa means Father in Kannada]


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Profile Image for daph pink ♡ .
930 reviews2,564 followers
March 6, 2023
Advertised as "psychological drama" I am still looking for the psychological aspect. Analysts will say that I am stupid for not getting the point.

The plot in general was weak *cough* what was the plot anyway?

- short story of journey of a family traversing across the socioeconomic class, rather rapidly.

What was this about? Capitalism? Family drama? Kitchen fights? Kiski roti kiski daal? What else?

The writng was lyrical I must say, it rather flowed through me and that's why I completed it in one sitting.

The characterization was flat. And that ending left me hanging literally like what next?

Overall a rather disappointing read. But like it was short I didn't had to pay for me so it's okay.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,738 reviews14.1k followers
February 26, 2017
In Bangalore, India a young man sits in a coffee shop. It is a place he comes to often, morning and evening, he is convinced that the waiter Vincent has insights into life that he badly needs. As he works up his courage to tell Vincent his story, he ponder the many changes in his family.

Once poor, living in only four rooms that connected front to back, a mother, father, sister and brother as well as their uncle all live together. There is a certain progression of stays that is silently acknowledged, the uncle first as he brings in the most money, father second, as he too has a job and then the mother, etc. All this changes when the father loses his job and the uncle has a plan to start his own business. Suddenly their lives change, more money, better place to live, but while much is gained, much is lost.

Simple and wise, this is a brilliant look on the impact of new found wealth. The changes within the family, within the away they view themselves. Choices open up but are they the right ones? A novella but one made more of an impression than a full length novel. Only the essential is written, only what matter, no filler trying to make the book longer. So I found it more insightful, more powerful.

Quite a good story.

Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,340 followers
March 27, 2017
A high 4 stars. When I finished Ghachar Ghochar, I read the author's brief biography at the end of the book, and wasn't surprised to see that he had written several plays. This very short novel has the tightness of a good play. Set in Bangalore, India, the first person narrator tells us about his family's recent rise to wealth and the attendant consequences. The story is short and told very simply, but the understated nature of the narrative is deceiving. You don't know what the story is really about until the end. And what an ending... A great look at contemporary life in India -- the awkward mix of tradition and modernity, the internal impenetrable logic of families with secrets, and of the cost of new found wealth. Well done. Highly recommended. By the way, don't try to figure out what "Ghachar Ghochar" means -- you'll find out when you need to in the story. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an opportunity to read an advance copy.
Profile Image for PorshaJo.
453 reviews659 followers
April 3, 2017
A line in the book sums this one up perfectly 'It's true what they say - it's not we who control the money, it's the money that controls us'. Such a small, short book but it packs such a punch. Ghachar Ghochar tells the story of one Indian family. You get an in-depth look at Indian culture and family dynamics. I am always fascinated by anything about India and this one did not disappoint. The story tells how one family, living in poverty, are closer than you can believe. They enjoy the company of one another. Then, they come into a lot of money. You see how quickly they change, how horrible they become, and they do not even realize it. It's all ghachar ghochar - a tangled mess. The story is told from one of the family member's point of view, who is un-named, and passes the day at the Coffee House. It's a great story and I see myself reading this one again.

I won this book via a Goodreads giveaway. Thanks to Penguin books and Goodreads. And let me just add, this is the print version and it's deckle edge. To show how much of a book geek I am....I love print. I do listen to audios but do not read books via an e-reader. I must have print. And I just adore the deckle edge print versions. Just makes it feel so unique. I'm so happy that I won this one.
Profile Image for Riku Sayuj.
653 reviews7,023 followers
January 6, 2021
There are three Acts to this short explosive novel.

The first is Pastoral.
The second is Modern
And the third is Post-Modern

Vivek traces many patterns in this beguiling work. Invokes nostalgia, aversion, and unease. He examines the evolution of family life, he examines the evolution of city life, he examines the nation’s morality over time, he examines the attitude to authority, he examines our proclivity to authoritarianism, he examines the role of journalism… what else? Quite a bit more, or so I felt a day after reading it in a mad rush. That is the beauty of a symbolic work that keeps all symbolism at a pole’s length. Vivek stays surely in the concrete small story he is weaving, while the reader starts rushing all over the place...


These small passages summarise the three Acts of this powdering of a novel that ends so abruptly that you’re left picking up the pieces and seeing the whole thing in a new light once it is all over:

This first passage captures what I felt was the essence of the book for most of my reading. It's a glimpse into the everyday life of an ordinary Indian family. There's nothing extraordinary in it. Life is what is extraordinary. Good fiction is capable of showing us Life with clarity. I was lucky I read this immediately after watching Pixar's 'Soul', which tries to tell us that Life is the reason for living, there are no additional reasons required. The full lived experience of our emotions and all the moments that pack our lives - that is all that is needed for a meaningful life.

Examine this passage if you can. See how your emotions draw a line around the scene. See how you might be thinking about the quaintness and the innocence of the scene, of their excitement at such a basic thing in life. Something we take for granted. It's almost sad isn't it, all that excitement for such a small thing?

But now perhaps think of the small things that might have given you as much joy? Is the misery of getting something so late in life greater than the sheer joy of the moment - a moment when you can expect your life to change so significantly so easily? Would future readers read similar scenes about the generation which unboxed phones (or drones, or whatever is deemed a bare necessity by the future reader) and made whole youtube videos about them?

"Chikkappa saved for months from his small income before managing to bring cooking gas to our kitchen. Along with it came a table for the stove to rest on. There was such a bustle of excitement and anticipation at home the day gas arrived. The workmen who brought home the cylinder and stove only placed them in the middle of the kitchen, put them together, showed us the flame, and left. We had already decided where to install the stove, but we went over the matter again at some length just to prolong the moment. Amma repeated at least ten times that she’d heard tea could be made in five minutes on a gas stove. She wondered if food cooked standing up would be as tasty. She joked: ‘Don’t ask me for tea again and again simply because it will be quick to make.’ We had a long session about how the gas cylinder ought to be turned on and off to ensure maximum safety. Appa warned Amma: ‘Watch carefully now. You’ll forget everything otherwise.’ And she listened quietly without putting up a fight. Amma had surveyed the neighborhood about its gas usage patterns. She told us how long a cylinder lasted in each neighbour’s house and how it could be stretched. ‘If it’s used only for urgent cooking, it lasts two months,’ she said. ‘Even when it’s run out, it seems you can turn the cylinder upside down and get a little more.’ The inaugural preparation was to be a round of tea. I was sent out to buy some chivda for accompaniment."

If you can live such moments fully, that's Life. --

The second act surprised me. This passage was the segue. The beautiful nostalgic narrative was starting to get uncomfortable and starting to ask questions… Again examine it honestly and see if you haven’t acted in some similar way, having ceded control to your purchasing power like some kind of out-of-control wish-fulfilling genie.

It’s true what they say – it’s not we who control money, it’s the money that controls us. When there’s only a little, it behaves meekly; when it grows, it becomes brash and has its way with us. We spent helplessly on Malati’s wedding. I say helplessly because no one asked us to; we simply didn’t know how to stop. The main actors in that month-long orgy of lavishness were Amma and Malati. I don’t think they even knew what they wanted. They’d set out every morning to shop. And when they were at home they spoke of nothing but saris and jewellery. The most expensive wedding hall we could find was booked. The caterer was dumbstruck by the number of dishes he was asked to serve. He’d come home to enquire about the menu and when he gave options of chiroti, holige, jalebi, pheni for the sweet, they said yes to all. He only had to mention a vegetable for them to say, ‘All right. Add that one too.’

The final act cannot be captured. It has to be examined in the aftermath of the abrupt explosion to have meaning. Read it.
Profile Image for Srividya Vijapure.
216 reviews302 followers
April 2, 2016
Ghachar Ghochar is perhaps one of the first books in recent times that interested me because of its title. The unique nature of the title and its surrounding simplicity attracted me and made me want to read this book. Added to this is the fact that the cover is one of the most beautiful covers that I have seen and this is not solely due to its aesthetic appeal but more due to its simplicity and its ability to convey a message that is both simple and true.

Despite having bought this book, I couldn’t get to it until today and even then I felt that I wouldn’t be able to get to it, given that my husband had come home yesterday after a long time and I felt that I owed him a book free weekend, something that is quite impossible. Anyway, the afternoon here was hot and the rising temperatures were conducive to sleeping and that’s what my family did, giving me the small time frame I needed to gobble up this book. Despite the assurances of a lot of friends who had all marked this as a five star book, I felt confident that I would go to sleep after reading a page or two. I was wrong and they were right, I kept turning the pages, went on reading till I finished the book, taking about an hour to get through it completely. After finishing, all I could do was close my tablet and lie with my eyes open, allowing the words to sink right in. I don’t know how long I was lying like that but the next thing I knew was my husband asking me if everything was okay. I couldn’t say a word except – Ghachar Ghochar!

Life is an entanglement at best and at worst; it is a kind of entanglement that gives you joy as much as it gives you sorrow. It teaches you as much as it can, even if you don’t want to learn. And money is the perhaps the boon and bane of life. Ghachar Ghochar reiterates these simple truths within its pages, in a story that it is as thrilling as it is appealing. The story is one where a lower income middle class family becomes wealthy and how this wealth affects them and the lives of those that they come in contact with. As a story, it is quite simplistic and what’s more is that the language is also simple, the characters are your ordinary middle class that almost all Indians can easily relate to and yet it is a story that is both mesmerizing and thrilling, one that showcases the constant struggle between virtue and vice and defines the thin line that lies in between and the ease with which one can easily go from one side to the other.

Shanbag’s characters are a varied motley cast in the form of Chikappa, Appa, Amma, Malati, Anita and the narrator. Shanbag differentiates between the two eras of life through Chikappa and Appa. Where the hardworking Chikappa is someone who understands that to grow in the world today you have to change your tune, the stoic Appa feels no such need and is silent to everything that goes on around him. It is almost as if the changes in his life has robbed him of his speech, if not his ability to think and what’s more it has robbed him of his opinion, which has no value attached to it. The narrator, the third male in the story, whose reminisces are what you read and who is like a river, going where the flow takes him, never contradicting or asking questions or even stating opinions. It is not so different in many families here, even today, where the main breadwinner is the one who sets the rules and takes the decisions, with the others simply following them. The women are quintessential in their descriptions, with Amma being the one who serves the family, Malati being a typical spoilt brat and Anita, the daughter in law taking the role of a mirror in the family. A mirror that the family doesn’t like and definitely doesn’t want, simply because it highlights the truth, which they just don’t want to see. It is through these characters that Shanbag weaves a tale that is honest and stark, which forces us to look within ourselves and face the truth of how money affects our lives. While the effect of money may not always be in the negative, it nevertheless forces us to question and perhaps at times leave behind the morals of old times, often threatening to wipe out all distinctions between right and wrong.

Reading this book is an experience that everyone should go through, irrespective of whether the Indian context is relatable or not. It is a tale that, according to me, overcomes all barriers through the message it encapsulates and the truths that it brings to light. The translation is superb and does not feel forced or unnatural but actually flows with a certain character, which makes this book shine even better.

Highly recommended!
Profile Image for Em Lost In Books.
874 reviews1,763 followers
June 5, 2018
"When you have no choice, you have no discontent either."

Had been on my tbr for more a year and would have gathered dust for longer, had it not been recommended to me by my buddy. A short but a lovely and touching story.
Profile Image for Ash.
1,001 reviews122 followers
May 16, 2017
Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag was translated from the Indian language Kannada. This book is pretty famous so I was curious to see what the hype was all about. Most reviews said that this book made them nostalgic about old Bangalore. There were few times it did make me nostalgic but overall it was pretty meh.

The one star is just because I was able to relate to some descriptions in the book like putting rangoli in the morning and such simple incidents. I still couldn't relate to a lot of things since I was never poor and never lived in a small house or poor locality.

But overall, I didn't get the point the author was trying to make. I definitely don't think money was the culprit here. The main protagonist has problems with every single woman in his life and keeps talking about how women are evil. These statements throughout the book made my blood boil. I have seen enough chauvinist men in real life that I didn't want to read about them in literature too. Writing was great though - translation done by Srinath Perur.

I think I would prefer reading about women warriors or engineers in fantasy or sci-fi literature, instead of books like these. Thanks to this book, I remembered why I avoided Indian contemporary literature. It looks like this book would have been more appropriate if it was published during my grandmother's time or a century back. Nothing is relevant in the present day. Also nothing really happens and there is no plot and it is just a character study.

Issues I had:
1. He broke up with a woman since she was a feminist and worked for women's welfare organization. Whaaaat?!

2. "Are you going to just sit there bawling? Heat up the food and serve him." - this is how his father speaks to his mother and the main protagonist justifies this saying - "He set her to work and calmed her somewhat". What a way to calm an upset woman!

3. About his sister leaving her husband - "Maybe she had got used to having whatever she wanted and this diminished her capacity for the inevitable compromises that accompany marriage". Someone please remind me why one has to compromise in marriage? Compromises don't make a marriage successful. It is mutual love and respect which makes it work. Looks like the author is saying that women will compromise if their father is poor, so it is better that way.

4. "Whenever I try to start, I quickly run into one of three women - Amma, Malati or Anita - each more fearsome than the other. I sometimes wonder if their every moment is spent sharpening their tongues, silently accumulating resentments for later use" - what a way of describing the only three women in protagonist's life. He keeps emphasizing how hard working the men in the family are but doesn't appreciate women. It is as if women have no better work to do other than picking fights.

5. "In any regular household, family members glare when a wife begins to freely spend her husband's hard-earned money". - was this book really written in 21st century? *speechless*

6. "I've always wondered if she'd have turned out as spoiled without his pampering" - spoiled because she left her husband for whatever personal reasons.

7. "Very argumentative at work. And apparently with her in-laws as well. No wonder he was driven to get rid of her" - this is how characters discuss the murder of a woman by her husband who killed her since she was not taking care of his parents.

Overall, it wasn't boring or as bad as some of the other books that I DNFed. I was able to finish the book but it left a bad taste in my mouth. These days, I look at how well the women are represented in a novel. I don't mind novels where there are no women characters but misrepresentation bothers me a lot.
Profile Image for Iris P.
171 reviews205 followers
May 15, 2017
Ghachar Ghochar

★★★★ 4 ½ Spellbinding Stars!

“When you have no choice, you have no discontent either.”
― Vivek Shanbhag - Ghachar Ghochar


Recently there's been lots of discussions about the plight and struggles of the working middle class, both in the United States and in Europe. Something we hear less about thought is the anxiety experienced by people who had recently made their way up the economic ladder, particularly those who live in the so-called emerging markets.

According to numbers reported by the World Economic Forum, between the years 2004 thru 2012 , India a country of 1.3 billion people, doubled the size of its middle class from 300 million to 600 million . To put that in perspective, according to the latest available statistics, the entire population of Canada is around 35 million while the United States's stands at just above 326 million .

In Ghachar Ghochar author Vivek Shanbhag portrays an Indian family raised from extreme poverty as a result of this extraordinary economic boom. It might sound counterintuitive but for many people, moving up the social ladder eliminates significant challenges but it also adds new ones. This novel is not so much about the ostentatious habits of the nouveau riche, as much as it is about the fears and insecurities that are intrinsically linked to a middle-class lifestyle.

As the novel opens, our unnamed narrator is sitting at the Coffee House, an old Bangalore establishment where every day he spends hours contemplating his life. He's particularly fond of Vincent, a waiter with an enigmatic personality and a penchant for cryptic observations which our main character reads as a form of fortune-telling.

His "joint family", consists of his older sister Malati, his wife Anita, his parents and his father’s brother or "chikkappa" (uncle). They live together, but this arrangement is more a matter of convenience and family politics than fondness for each other. “It is natural to wonder, I suppose, why the six of us should want to live together,” he muses, “What can I say, it is one of the strengths of families to pretend that they desire what is unavoidable.”

After Appa, the family's patriarch got laid off from his job as a spice salesman, he decides to invest his considerable severance on his brother's business venture. Fortunately for the family, Chikkappa is quite a competent businessman, the new company quickly flourishes and in short order, they move from their ant-infested, one-room house, to a large home where everybody has their own bedroom and they enjoy the conveniences of modern day appliances.

Initially, these material improvements bring an overall sense of contentment to the whole family, but things quickly begin to unravel after the narrator marries Anita. One of the great strengths of this novel is how well it depicts the picture of a family so closely-knit that it's almost impossible for any outsider to break into it. Anita's presence unsettles the family's norms and way of living so much that soon some sinister possibilities are beginning to be considered and the plot takes a much darker turn.

The first review I read about this book was posted by Esil, in which she advises not to spend time looking up the expression "Ghachar Ghochar", because in her words, "you'll find out when you need to in the story". After reading the novel myself I couldn't agree more with that assertion.

Although this is one of those novels with an unresolved conclusion, the ending which I found quite unnerving, was also surprising and very cleverly structured. Ghachar Ghochar is a sublimely told story that shows a slice of life in contemporary India and manages to communicate as much by what is says explicitly than what it leaves implied.

Highly recommended!
Profile Image for Bookishrealm.
1,909 reviews4,816 followers
February 3, 2021
That ending. Honestly, I didn’t expect that and I listened to the last 20 minutes of this book twice to make sure I understood what the author was insinuating. Brilliantly done and I’m glad this was my last read of January

2021 is the year of translated works. I read quite a bit of manga which is technically translated; however, my ultimate goal is to broaden my horizons in relationship to translations. Ghachar Ghochar wasn’t on my radar. I randomly found the audiobook and made the decision to give it a try after reading the synopsis. The most interesting aspect of this reading experience is that the most defining moments of this book don’t come until the end meaning readers won’t grasp the true nature of the book until the last few pages. Set in Bangalore, Ghachar Ghochar opens with a young man sitting at coffee shop describing the setting of the coffee shop and those around him. Eventually he switches the narrative to a story focused on how his family went from poverty to acquiring massive wealth. This book isn’t so much about plot as it is about character study. Readers spend the entirety of the book watching a close knit family alter and change in very complex and intriguing ways after acquiring money. From small things such as less family meals to more complex situations like failed marriages, it’s fascinating to see the evolution of who they were to who they have become. As a reader, spectator, it’s easy to see how horrid the family becomes but they become so immersed in their new found wealth that they can’t see the changes within themselves. It’s only through the arrival of the narrator’s wife that their way of life becomes challenged. This is probably the first translated book that I’ve read from India and it won’t be my last. The following quote ties the meaning this book together beautifully: “it’s not we who control money, it’s the money that controls us. When there’s only a little, it behaves meekly; when it grows, it becomes brash and has its way with us.” With great exploration of Indian culture and family dynamics, Ghachar Ghochar is dynamic and interesting read that I highly recommend.
Profile Image for Helly.
195 reviews3,387 followers
December 24, 2018
Oh my god. What was that ending? I need an answer. Such an amazing book. God. I am restless. Help me - what was that ending?????
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews33 followers
August 19, 2021
narrated by Neil Shah
….2 hours and 41 minutes of…. PURE PLEASURE…listening!!!

I’ve owned this book a few years — it took Audible offering it as a ‘freebie’ - and ‘Lisa’s’ review to ‘finally’ dive in.
It’s a *slim-gem*!
….[a struggling family in India]….
….funny, warm, a spice business, quiet, reflective, and a look at how money changes people…..
💰💰💰💰💰> Beautiful smooth-flowing-prose.

Profile Image for Tanu.
329 reviews326 followers
January 10, 2023
“When you have no choice, you have no discontent either.”

Very rarely a book comes along that you want to thrust into the hands of everyone. Ghachar Ghochar is one such book. 

Ghachar Ghochar appears to be an unassuming short novel at first glance—the story of a family whose financial circumstances improve for the better, and the influence of their newfound money on their household relations. That is true, but it is also much more.

This story is full of complicated undercurrents that build to a cliffhanger ending with unsettling and dangerous consequences. The narrator's curiously passive explanation is what makes it particularly unnerving and affecting. He is a devout believer in deliberate ignorance.

Fun fact: Reports state that Ghachar Ghochar is the first book originally written in Kannada to have found an American publisher. It deserves every bit of the wide readership it’s garnering.

Grab your copy here.
Profile Image for Vishakha.
37 reviews115 followers
April 21, 2022
4.5 stars rounded to 5

I haven't felt this strongly about anything I read this year, except for A Town Called Solace by Mary Lawson which I read towards the end of January. Although these two books are profoundly different in their scope, pace, and treatment, I take Mary Lawson's name in the same breath as Vivek Shanbhag for certain traits which appear as similarities to my amateurish understanding. For me, these are two very different but equally refined writing styles marked by simplicity and preciseness in the use of words. Shanbhag employs his reticence as a weapon, his measured words jut out in sharp angles in Ghachar Ghochar, bursting with hidden meaning, building and destroying worlds with their explosiveness.  Mary Lawson uses her spare and understated prose to elicit a wide range of emotions - grief, loss, love, regret, joy and most of all a gentle warmth.

When a simple sentence leaves you in a whirl of thoughts or a modest, unembellished paragraph is as potent as a full chapter, making time to read only a book a month can sometimes feel quite satisfying. As a side-effect, I resorted to shielding my now-sensitive self from what felt like an onslaught of words from loose-lipped books, otherwise known as the occupants of my reading shelf. To restore the balance, I believe I will need to call Mr. Nabokov to my aid. 

The story is straightforward - a family's sudden ascent to money which, not surprisingly, is accompanied by a precipitous decline in morality. What stands out is Shanbhag's narrative finesse, punctuated with affecting incidents where the meaning is implicit in the words which were left unsaid. Nothing is directly addressed, the characters stay silent or leave the scene altogether in the most crucial moments to avert any verbal outbreak and probably to avoid conspicuous ownership of the mess their lives are in. And every time, these silent rejoinders denote something different - avoidance, condoning, helplessness, and disappointment.

"The well being of any household rests on selective acts of blindness and deafness."

This affair with wealth makes all their other relationships perfunctory.  They carry on in their unscrupulous ways but sometimes pause and remember the warmth of the days when life was simpler. Through these brilliant episodic reminisces, a memorable portrait of the Indian lower-middle class milieu is painted. 

"..the result was that we simply did not desire what we couldn't afford. when you have no choice, you have no discontent either."

Shanbhag doesn't taint his expression with a list of adjectives. For instance, the indecision of the narrator is conveyed through his interactions with strong, outspoken women who challenge him to action. There is minute attention paid to gender dynamics in everyday situations infusing the story with feminist undertones. And I was overjoyed by this and relished every bit of the reading experience. Even if I overlook the cultural context which could have biased my opinion, the book on its own is excellent and highly recommended. 
Profile Image for Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader.
2,128 reviews30.3k followers
April 23, 2017
I found out about this book after reading a review from my book friend, PorshaJo, and she generously gifted me her copy to read. So thoughtful of you, PJ, and I thoroughly enjoyed it! I was struck by the sparse, to-the-point prose, and coincidentally, I finished Kent Haruf's Our Souls at Night yesterday, which shared a similar writing style of saying more with less. When I got to the end of this novella about unplanned wealth's effect on a family, at first, I was greedy. I wanted the story to continue, but at the same time, the author was able to get the message across in less than 120 pages, so I can be content with that (and maybe another novella with this family at a future date?! :)) I'm looking forward to more books from this author. Thanks again, PorshaJo.
Profile Image for Apoorva.
164 reviews682 followers
April 14, 2021
Ghachar Ghochar is a classic rag to riches story about a joint family living in Bangalore. The book is sort of a documentation of how the lives of people transform when they move from one extreme to another. Like in the beginning, the family is barely able to make the ends meet. They had to make a lot of comprises and sacrifices to just survive. And then they become rich enough to afford whatever they want. So it’s interesting to see the shift in attitude from ‘I want to survive’ when they have nothing to ‘I can do anything to survive when they don’t want to lose everything they have.

Their family dynamic is fairly similar to a kingdom where the king works hard and builds his empire. Now there’s a hierarchy and you have to follow certain rules so you maintain the status quo and keep structure running smoothly. However, an outsider comes into your kingdom who has a completely different set of morals and doesn’t care about your rules. Things get complicated and that’s what this book is about.

What is loved about this book is how simple and powerful it is at the same time. Even the most mundane family drama portrays the power struggle and clashes due to contrasting opinions. The author has done a great job of depicting realistic characters. The story is narrated by one of the members of the family, who is reminiscing about how his life changed and trying to figure out when everything went wrong.

And the ending was totally unexpected! It’s an open ending so you are free to draw your own conclusions. To me, it felt kind of abrupt because it left me hanging and I want answers! But apart from that, I really liked this book.

Check out my Video Review
Profile Image for Reading_ Tamishly.
4,297 reviews2,294 followers
August 20, 2021
I still remember reading this novella two years ago and (wonder of wonders!) I still remember everything so vividly.

It talks about a family which used to live in a house with only two rooms to living in a big house all because of the success of a family business.

This novella impressively shows the transition of the attitude and behaviour of the family members throughout this process. The sister is one of the most dramatic, unlikeable characters I have ever come across. She's petty, selfish and way too dramatic.

There's nothing iconic about the plot I would say. But it's the writing style that made all the difference. The writing style is unique and this kind of writing style can make everything and anything interesting I guess.

The ending is somewhat an open one where I felt like the book did not end there but the later half of the story is waiting somewhere. But that's the beauty of it I guess.

This book is worth reading I would say. It's one of those books which study characters and express the same in a very thought provoking manner.

I would say it's a very near adaptation of most of the families of the nineties in India. The representation of middle class families is really done well.
Profile Image for Sumati.
48 reviews91 followers
March 17, 2016
Translated literary pieces frequently fail to transport the original essence of a story as rendering the meaning of a text into another language in the way that the author intended is difficult. But, often than not there is a lot in a book, that falls casualty to the exigencies of translation, there is simply no alternative. I personally don’t like translated scripts and have a suspicion towards something that is not the original. Having said that, most of my favorite books are translated pieces and ironically, without translation most of us would not be edified by the works of Fyodor Dostoevsky, Albert Camus, Italo Calvino, Rabindranath Tagore and many other laureates.

Vivek Shanbhag’s Ghachar Ghochar is also a translated story from the Kannada by Srinath Perur and I must add that the story was masterfully translated and was successful in bringing out the quintessential lifestyle of a bourgeoisie living in the city of Bangalore. This is one of the first Kannada book translated in English to find a publisher in the United States (Penguin Books USA), according to a release from Harper Collins Publishers India.

Like the comforting rich aromas of freshly brewed coffee and baked goods in a café, this novella is also a warm and refreshing read about a family saga which charts the everyday life of its members as they move from poor to wealthy in one generation. What attracted me first was its unique name “Gachar Ghochar’’- meaning entangled (according to the book, this word is coined by the protagonist’s wife and her family and does not belong to any language in this world).

Secondly, what attracted me was the cover of the book. It made me pause, and admire; I mention this specifically because many translated works have been doomed to anonymity front jacket onwards. A saucer with spilled coffee and an army of ants swarming throughout the book cover is not literally applicable to the story but is an allegory that the writer uses to show a family’s insecurity, paranoia, fears and the death of morality upon a sudden swell in wealth.

“We had no compunction towards our enemies and took to increasingly desperate and violent means of dealing with them... in time, we began to be openly cruel to ants. We saw them as demons come to swallow our home and became a family that took satisfaction in the destruction of ants. We might have changed house since, but habits are harder to change.”

The young narrator, one night finds his paranoid mother squatting in the kitchen, facing the wall, flashlight in hand, trying to find out where the army of ants that had invaded their home had come from. Any outsider indicates a potential ant in need to be squashed and Anita, the narrator’s wife, is an outsider to the family who broke the rule by not supporting the family when it was threatened.

‘She shouldn’t have’

To the contrast of a warm start, the end is rather bitter!! A superbly told story of a ghachar ghochar life!!

Lastly, Shanbhag has given us a superb novel, disturbing at times but displays beautifully the intense emotions in a family and an aversion to any change in its daily life or internal dynamics. The message reaches you crystal clear with the use of the simplest words possible. The author has written an ingenious tale of how the growth of money and material needs strips a family of its moral fortitude.
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,896 reviews1,927 followers
March 3, 2017
Rating: 4.5* of five

Reading Is Resistance to selective blindness about violence against women.

Excellent book, Penguin Books should be proud of introducing English-language readers to yet another amazing voice.
Profile Image for Daniel Shindler.
255 reviews75 followers
June 7, 2022
“ Ghachar Gochar” is a quiet novel that builds momentum by assembling small details which gradually expand into a picture of a family and the surrounding society. The novel is the literary equivalent of a raised eyebrow that conveys depth of meaning with no vocalization necessary. The details of the novel are fraught with implication and slowly impart a sense of unease and foreboding.

Set in Bangalore, the plot is delivered by an unnamed narrator and chronicles his family’s rise from poverty to wealth.This simple schematic is enriched by spare, subtle prose that never states too much and allows space for the reader to breathe into the closed interior spaces of this family. Much is left to ellipsis and implication. Small actions and statements accumulate. Gradually we become immersed in the family’s cloistered inside depths that illuminate their emotional struggles.

The narrative thread follows the fortunes of six family members during their journey to economic success. We witness a shift in each member’s expectations, priorities and emotional connections as increased wealth alters their relationships.When poor, the family seemed to move as a unit in order to survive poverty. Wealth, however, perniciously makes them more ruthless and alters their perspectives.Our nameless narrator notes that money is controlling the family instead of the reverse.

Consequently, the novel can be read as a story of moral decline. The family’s recent financial success has not eradicated their inner anxieties.Their fear of returning to economic ruin has triggered a descent into moral ambiguity that limits their relationships with outsiders and alters their internal bonds.

Through piercing observations and indirection, the author has created a subtle portrait of interpersonal dynamics,gender relations,cultural mores and societal development.This self contained family is a cauldron of deferred aggression and avoidance of direct confrontation among themselves. Nevertheless, they band together to repel outsiders even as they vie with each other to define a role in their claustrophobic world. While living in poverty, the family home was infested with ants. Organizing themselves with military precision, they relentlessly repelled and exterminated the ants. Once ensconced in wealth, the family turns its attention from eradicating ants to vigorously repelling outsiders with beliefs that challenge their internal balance. The narrator’s wife Anita has a different value system than those of her in laws. As the novel progresses we are left to wonder how closely Anita’s life arc will parallel that of the ants. By raising this question, the author prompts us to reconsider the complexity of human instincts and emotions.Marvelous.
Profile Image for Kianoush Mokhtarpour.
106 reviews144 followers
May 28, 2023
داستان اینه: یک خانواده‌ی فقیر هندی، دری به تخته‌ای می‌خورد و وضعشون خوب می‌شه. کم‌کم رفتارها و ارزش‌هاشون هم تغییر می‌کنه

این کتاب رو به چند دلیل خیلی دوست داشتم

یک. خود داستان

نویسنده قصه‌گوی قابلیه. ساده ولی حساب‌شده نوشته. و خیلی چکیده. تو صد صفحه قد سیصد صفحه چیز گفته، و با این حال قصه روون و آسون پیش می‌ره. ترجمه هم خیلی خوبه

دو. نگاه اجتماعی

جامعه‌شناسی رو خیلی دوست دارم، ولی هر وقت سمتش رفتم چیزی از افاضات ثقیلشون دستگیرم نشد. ولی یه سری رمان‌ها و داستان‌ها هستن که بهتر از ده تا کتاب جامعه‌شناسی دید جامعه‌شناختی به آدم می‌دن. قاچار قوچار همچین کتابیه. نقش پول تو روابط، تغییر از جامعه‌ی سنتی به مدرن، گذار از جمع‌گرایی به فردگرایی و ازاین تعابیر دهن‌پرکن رو تو این کتاب می‌شه مثل سیب تو دست گرفت و براندازش کرد. ملموس ملموس. کتاب با نشون دادن یه خانوده، تغییراتی که داره تو اجتماع اتفاق می‌افته رو هم نشونمون می‌ده

سه. عین واقعیت

از این حرف‌ها که فقر خوبه، در فقر معرفت هست و معنویت هست و اینها رو به خورد ما نداد. دمش گرم. کثیفی و سختی زندگی تو فقر رو قشنگ نشون داده. دیوارهای دوده‌گرفته و غذای ناکافی و اینها رو نیومده بهش رنگ معنویت بزنه. بعد که خانواده وضعش خوب می‌شه هم خوبی‌ها و بدی‌هاش رو همه رو نشون می‌ده. نفی حکمت نکرده. دوست داشتم فضای هند دستم بیاد که گمونم خیلی کمکم کرد

چه��ر. نزدیک به امروز ایران

مشکلاتشون شبیه ماست. مثلاً اینکه یه پسر جوون از طرفی نه کاملاً سنتیه، نه کاملاً مدرن. تکلیفش با خودش مشخص نیست. یا مثلاً اینکه ازدواج‌ها داره از تحمیلی بودن درمیاد و خود دختر و پسر همدیگه رو انتخاب می‌کنن، که خوبه، ولی از طرفی ازدواج ناموفق و طلاق بیشتر می‌شه، که به نظرم بده
Profile Image for David.
659 reviews317 followers
June 9, 2017
We are first introduced to Vincent, sitting in a Coffee House in Bangalore and avoiding responsibility. From there we spiral outward to his family as they navigate their suddenly changed situation and newfound wealth. Money affords them a laissez faire ruthlessness. They are sharp edges to those outside the family unit. The intricate dependencies on each other in poverty binds them in wealth. It’s a fine balance ;) A tiny book, easily read and beautifully done. Frankly some of the reviews are almost as enjoyable to read as the book itself.

Deborah Smith, Han Kang’s translator, effuses in the Guardian. Parul Sehgal in the New York Times is lyrical in her praise, calling it the Great Indian Novel and evokes the trick of translation from the original Kannada. Translator Srinath Perur does an incredible job.
Profile Image for Poonam.
605 reviews503 followers
July 17, 2017
3.5 stars

One of the commendable things about this book is that in small set of pages a lot of things are conveyed. There are soo many things revealed by subtle nuances of words.....

Originally written in Kannada, I read the English translation. The translation is well done and makes for an easy read.

The story starts off with a man reminiscing about his child-hood days. The first half of the story is a flashback to his childhood days, the struggles of lower middle class family and the happiness found in little things in life.

But then life makes a change for the better financially but sometimes less is more and actually getting more complicates life.

I think my review maybe a bit confusing but The language in the book is simple, the story itself is simple with a lot of small messages to the story.

The main thing that I got from this story is that it is better to have a goal in life and struggle for it than become complacent with a life of luxury.

The cover makes special sense after you finish this story and made me feel there are somethings that only your family will understand because of the things you have experienced together.

Also that ending , but maybe I have been reading too many thrillers and my mind is working a bit overtime. What did you think about that ending?
Profile Image for Lauren .
1,717 reviews2,311 followers
April 23, 2020
The message of this incredible book distills to a simple phrase: Money changes everything.

The book begins with a near-perfect description of the unnamed main character's ritual of going to his cafe/sanctuary, and meeting with his barista/guru. I read this section three times as I loved it that much. The story opens up and becomes a parable (of sorts), detailing a family's rise from poverty to wealth. We see how each character changes - in looks, personality, personal tastes - in a very short amount of time.

A stunning story, and one that I will recommend to others - as a short and accessible piece, it really packs the punch. Loved it.

Longer spoken review and discussion of this book on Jenny's Reading Envy Podcast 097: Blank Spaces (guest: me!)
Profile Image for Preethi.
806 reviews122 followers
May 10, 2016
This book took me on a memory trip like no other. I can't quite put a finger on what exactly could be reason for this, but I felt like I knew everything that happened in this book first hand. It felt like I knew the people in this book, like they were some kind of am extended family. The events throughout the book caused me pain like they were happening right in front of me, and the language kept it more than real.

Many times,I noticed that I stopped whatever para it was that I was reading, and rolled the entire para on my mouth, and reimagined it all in Kannada. No, the English translation is plain brilliant, even when the pure Kannada adages were being spelt or when something very native was happening (like Tuvvi calling out to Venka, an incident that tugged the heartstrings like never before), but this book made me yearn for Kannada, and that's a first.

Some gems like "One story, many sides" spell out the brilliance of this book, and the money sentiment throughout the book is only too familiar to people from my generation and background. The story about ants could've been right from my house, or the one about gifts too... Malati's behavior towards her in-laws, Anita's dissent at the money in the family, Appa's attempt to be relevant in a world he can't recognize anymore, Amma's hanging out to the kitchen, Chikkappa's callousness... each of these are things I recognize from my daily life!

Basically, this is the most relatable, beautiful, realistic, heartbreaking, brilliant piece of literature I've ever come across... totally!

I finished reading the book and held it for a while, looking at the ants on the cover art, thinking about the meaning of the word Ghachar Ghochar... and I sensed both melancholy and peace in my mind.
Profile Image for Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore.
762 reviews169 followers
January 31, 2022
Ghachar Ghochar (2015) by Vivek Shanbhag is the second book of Kannada fiction that I’ve read in translation (the first was the much older Indira Bai (1899) by Gulvadi Venkata Rao, a social novel with much to recommend, but one I didn’t end up reviewing when I read it) and I found this one to be an excellent read, one that challenges the reader in many ways, and gets them thinking but at a time and in a way that one least expects it. It is a book that leaves more unsaid than said, and it is in the said and the unsaid that we must understand or attempt to the story and its characters.

Our story is narrated by an unnamed young man about his family and opens in Coffee House, a bar and restaurant that has replaced but not changed the name of what was once a coffee house, to which our narrator escapes when he is unable to deal with things. As the story unfolds, we learn about his family’s journey from a time when they lived in a cramped, ant-infested four-room home, with little money coming from the salary of the narrator’s Appa, who works as a salesman for a tea company going out from shop to shop to sell tea every day and spending evenings meticulously doing his accounts. On his limited earnings the author, his older sister Malati and Chikkappa (Appa's younger brother) are educated, the family eats and meets their needs. While they have food to eat, a home to live in and education, money is tight and every expense must be carefully considered. Then Appa suddenly loses his job when his company decides to outsource. Chikkappa puts forward a plan to start a business in which Appa invests. The business is a success and the family find themselves suddenly moving to a huge house in an upmarket area and money no longer an object.

But this new found prosperity begins to change the family themselves. In some ways, it seems to knit them together, and in others pull them apart. We see the changing dynamics between them, and also how they navigate different situations. And as the narrator says at one point, ‘it’s not we who control money; it’s the money that controls us’, and money unsurprisingly doesn’t bring out the best in them.

Ghachar Ghochar is a short little book—112 pages in the edition I have and that too with rather large font making it a pretty quick read. The translation itself by Srinath Perur is excellently done, and doesn’t feel like one at any point. The writing is straightforward, to the point, yet with descriptions that enable one to visualise all that is talked of.

The book as it seems from its description and when reading it is the changing family dynamics with coming of wealth. And it is that certainly, some of the family become worse versions of themselves, others seem to retreat or be unsure how to deal with what’s happening but with anything that happens, it is the money that is firmly at the centre. But the book is also a lot more.

As one reads, there are incidents and points that cause one to wonder, raise one’s eyebrows even, but it is only when we reach the end—that very ambiguous end which I didn’t see coming at all—that we find ourselves thinking back over all those little moments, over and over to work out what clues they might have given us to things that happened, those that are to come, and to the people themselves.

I certainly enjoyed this one, which through its story and characters brings up themes of poverty and prosperity, right and wrong, family and relationships among others. It was both simple and complex leaving one wondering about many things at the end.

4.25 stars!
Profile Image for Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac).
667 reviews586 followers
November 30, 2017
Don’t miss out on this gem of a novella, the first work of Indian fiction to be translated from Kannada into English. A rags-to-riches tale set in modern Bangalore, its simplicity is deceptive, and the unnerving events punctuating this seemingly white-picket-fence story are utterly riveting. Shanbhag’s been called India’s Chekhov; I don’t know about that, but I do know I want to press this wonderful piece of fiction into your hands.
Profile Image for Ahtims.
1,469 reviews125 followers
May 8, 2016
4.5 stars.
Perhaps I wouldn't have read this book, if Srividya had not mentioned in a thread that the kindle edition is being sold at reduced rates, and Girish immediately replying that he's bought it. My curiosity was piqued. I went through the blurb and a few reviews and decided to try it out.
The deceptively simple story of a lower middle class Bangalorean family sucked me in to a world layered with blood ties, tactics and duplicity. The family consisted of father, mother, their children - a girl and a boy, and the father's unmarried younger brother. The father loses his job, and the younger brother decides to start a spice retail business using his brother's capital. Soon the business flourishes and they ascend up the monetary ladder. The close knit family slowly unwinds, though they are ever ready to support each other. The children get married, the girl immediately seperates from her husband, the boy's wife Anita (the strongest character of the story) is a simple middle class girl with a strong moral code, who questions the dubious ways of the family, or whatever she notices of it. The father and son are easy go lucky chaps and always kow tow to the uncle, who's actually very loving and supportive. The end is horrifying and menacing and left me with certain questions, my answers to which were not welcome.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this short, intricately wound story. It was so vivid as for me to feel that I was a spectre like presence in their house.
I was intrigued by the title - Ghachar ghochar. I thought it was kannada, and asked me husband who was unaware of such a word in Kannada. More than halfway through the story, I came to know what it is.
I intend to use the term 'ghachar ghochar' in my day to day life. :)
I am keen to read other works by the author.
Would have given it 5 solid stars, but for the cliffhanger ending.
I really want to know
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