Even before I reached Hema Sukumar’s name at the bottom of this beautifully illustrated cover, I knew this book was South Indian in some form or the other. The clothes hanging on the terrace, the wooden doors, the little squirrel clambering up the coconut tree, the window air conditioners, the white-hot sun oozing from out of the page—all of it resonated in some part of my heart. Minor Disturbances at Grand Life Apartments is a warm-hearted story set in the sweltering heat of Chennai. As a long-term resident of the city, it was both surprising and delightful to be sitting in the cold gloom of London and find a warm slice of South India appear on my NetGalley dashboard.
Grand Life Apartments, owned by Mani, is home to Kamala, Revathi, Jason, and Poons (a stray cat who loves hanging about the apartments). The neighbours form close friendships with one another, and over the course of the novel, they come together to fight for their home against developers who want to raze it all down to build a luxury, high-rise apartment block instead.
I love slice-of-life stories, and it is a rare pleasure to read one set in Chennai. Minor Disturbances romanticizes the everyday experience of living in Chennai and conjures a sense of nostalgia. A fondness and yearning for the life you never really pay much attention to when you’re living it. And it is this feeling that Hema Sukumar evokes in the reader beautifully. Sure, there is a main plot arc and individual ones for all the characters—Kamala overcoming her own prejudices, Reva actively gaining control of her life, Jason becoming a part of the city. However, these are gently woven into the background, while the ordinary day-to-day living takes precedence in the foreground.
The apartment block itself is another main character and is integral to how the relationships between the neighbours develop. Everyone gets together in the front porch during the frequent power cuts that are all too common in Chennai. The terrace is where clothes are hung to dry, books are read during cooler evenings, and of course crow- and people-watching are done in earnest. Hema Sukumar has done an excellent job of bringing the setting and the characters to life. As someone who lived in and loved the city, I find her writing very vivid and relatable.
If there is any slight gripe to be had, it would be that the overarching plot of the construction company acquiring the apartments is somehow too dramatic and dark (there is actual physical danger involved) and doesn’t fit in with the mellow tone of the rest of the book. Even if you did look past that, it is still disappointing since there is not enough payoff for all that build up. The climax is extremely rushed, and the resolution actually occurs off screen!
Regardless, Minor Disturbances was an utter joy and inspiration to read. I will 100% be buying the book when it is released on July 27.
Thank you NetGalley and Hodder & Stoughton for sending this book for review consideration. All opinions are my own.
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