Touching Earth by Rani Manicka opens with the graveyard and the narrators long gone but reminiscing about their lives. Then the novel plunges into the beautiful vistas of Bali to feast on; its power and the magic that can beguile anyone. It is Nutan, one of the twins who is narrating the story, who herself is about to tell a story but she starts with her childhood: the typical fairy tale start of innocence when she lived with her twin, Zeenat and her mother, grandmother and father. But therein lay a dark secret that is cut wide open right at the beginning. And that sets the course for the lives of the Balinese twins.
What is this book about?
The first part of Touching Earth is a narration by both the twins – Zeenat and Nutan – who reminisce about the past and their idyllic childhood and the food they ate. Bali one can visualise when one hears their narration. Yet one secret changed their fate and they ended up in London, lost at first with the weather, the food, and the language. They worked at a cafe for a pitiful wage, because of being illegal immigrants. They were miserable at first. However, another twist of fate made their paths cross that of Ricky Delgado, who was in the risky restaurant business and who lured the girls into his metaphorical spider temple, that weaved its drug infused tight web of sin, sex and decadence around the twins.
While at Ricky Delgado’s spider temple, Nutan and Zeenat meet other characters such as the tortured painter, Anis; the cold and indifferent, Elizabeth; Bruce, the owner of a hair dressing salon. And my favourite character, Francesca, Ricky’s wife. I know it is derogatory to simply pin down her identity to so-and-so’s wife but it is her brilliant character arc and change from being just a role to someone in control (unlike, Ricky, who in sharp contrast, loses all control), is what makes me love this character.
One last reason to pick it up?
The novel’s beginning captures the beauty of Bali that is pure and untouched by tourist brochures. It allows you some vicarious travel and to see a glimpse of the culture’s beauty, power, magic and its visceral existence. It is not exotic or oriental and that makes the reader dive in immediately.
The other reason is that the narrative is a blend of multiple point of views. Each character gets their fair share of pages to voice out their thoughts and their dreams. This makes each character come out alive and deeply sketched, which in turn makes the story quite engaging.