Very few books — especially from Indian authors — have ventured into the world of Communist Europe in the 1960s and 1970s. And, Harp does just that. The descriptions and insights into that world are still relevant, perhaps even more relevant, in our present times. This truly sets apart the book from other stories. Set in the context of the zeitgeist and idealism of the late sixties, Harp is about love, longing and coming of age in a simple language and style. The novel follows the lives of three protagonists as they engage with cultural, sexual, student revolutions and the music of the ‘60s.
This novel is a love story. It is about a young man’s encounters. How a young girl is torn between her profession – music and her deeply held values –especially her paradigm of Europe and her feelings. Another character in the book alters the equations. The book covers other triangles too. The book has glimpses of the Kafkaesque functioning of bureaucracy and to a lesser extent the criminal ways of the politicians.
This novel based on author’s travels through Europe as a young man and the training he received in factories there. Similarly, it draws a little bit on the women he encountered and the relationships he had and also somewhat on the struggle to please his parents. One always draws on one’s experiences. The rest was imagination. Many things are invented, imagined both in the narrative and in the personae of the characters, as it should be in fiction. The author’s extensive travel abroad makes the description of places like Amsterdam, Lyon, Dijon, Warsaw, Wroclaw, Cracow and Helsinki very authentic.
We have in this book, Ashok, a young man travelling in a Europe covered by the Iron Curtain, who forms the pivot of the story, a young woman Lauren whose calling is music and Aparna, who has loved and lost. Encompassing these journeys is also a quest on their part to know themselves better and seek what they really want. These aspects reflecting real life situations and the universality of emotions resonate well with the reader.
Author has vividly described the Ashok’s inner conflict when he was forced to choose between his love and his parents and Lauren’s dilemma between her affection and passion for music. Incidentally, the title of the story comes from Lauren’s dedication to harp.
Beyond the romantic element, Dalmia makes some interesting observations about the prevailing economic and political situation in India then which in the liberalised atmosphere since 1991 may seem quaint to young readers.
The beautiful cover, which did invoke a sense of romanticism in me, didn’t manage to sustain the emotion through its prose. The many travels, described in detail, suggest that the author is fond of travelling and is inspired with the many stories the different landscapes, cultures and economies have to tell.