Longlisted for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature
On 1 November 1984, a day after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's assassination, a nineteen-year-old student, Raj, travels back from a class trip with his mentor, Professor Singh. As the group disembark at Delhi station a mob surrounds the professor, throws a tire over him, douses him in gasoline, and sets him alight.
Years later, after moving to the United States, Raj finds himself compelled to return to India to find his professor's widow, the beautiful and enigmatic Nelly. As the two walk through the misty mountains of Shimla, painful memories emerge, and Raj realizes he must face the truth about his father's role in a genocidal pogrom. But, as they soon discover, the path leads inexorably back to that day at the train station.
In this lyrical and haunting exploration of one of the most shocking moments in the history of the Indian nation, Jaspreet Singh has crafted an affecting and important story of memory, collective silences and personal trauma.
“Inventive, melancholy, and unflinchingly courageous.” —Siddhartha Deb, author of The Beautiful and the Damned
“A tour de force.” —Globe and Mail
“An indictment of the terrrible events of November, 1984, the book teases out the complicated intersection of family, love, politics, and hate, and how one man confronts the responsibility and guilt of one of the worst times in his nation's history.” —Publishers Weekly
“Singh illuminates a horrific event: the systematic genocide of minority Sikhs in November 1984... [A] brutally honest indictment of an often glossed-over episode in India's long history.” —Booklist
“A poignant and devastating depiction of how silencing fails to annul complicity.” —Daphne Marlatt, recipient of the 2012 George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award
“Just like the noble gas that pervades our universe, extremes of inhumanity pervade the lives of all those touched by them. In Helium, Jaspreet Singh evokes, with striking images and prose that honors W.G. Sebald, Orhan Pamuk, and Primo Levi, the 1984 massacre of Sikhs in India. It is a feat of chemistry, but also of alchemy, for Singh transforms the seemingly ineffable-- the enduring chaos engendered by mob violence -- into a work of fiction both beguiling and lyrical.” —Taras Grescoe,author of The Devil's Picnic and Straphanger
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