The Crow Eaters (USA)
"Bapsi Sidhwa’s study of some archetypal characters of her community—the Parsees—deserves more than praise both as a sociological and as a literary document. The Parsees have always been flamboyantly prominent in public life: what goes on behind this façade has been, for most of us, as remote and mysterious as the underworld. Bapsi Sidhwa has opened for us all the doors and all the windows of this world’s innermost recesses. Ruthlessly truthful, deeply perceptive, she tells her story with rare courage, frankness and good humour. Her exposition, or exposure, may or may not please her confreres but it will certainly endear her to every reader who comes across this book. It is a veritable tour de force."
–Faiz Ahmed Faiz
Paperback: 268 pages
Publisher: Milkweed Editions
Date: January 2006
At the dawn of the 20th century in Pakistan, Freddy Junglewalla moves his family — pregnant wife, baby daughter, and Jerbanoo, his rotund mother-in-law — from their ancestral forest home to cosmopolitan Lahore. He opens a store, and as his fortunes grow, so does the animosity between Freddy and his mother-in-law. While Freddy prospers under British rule, life with the domineering Jerbanoo is another matter entirely. This exuberant novel, full of rollicking humor, paints a vivid picture of life in the Parsee community.
Faredoon Junglewalla, Freddy for short, saw no future for himself in his ancestral village, in Central India, and resolved to seek his fortune in the hallowed pastures of the Punjab.
Loading his belongings, which included a widowed mother-in-law eleven years older than himself, and a pregnant wife six years younger, onto a bullock cart, he set off for the North. The cart was a wooden platform on wheels -- fifteen feet long and ten feet across. Almost two-thirds of the platform was covered by a bamboo and canvas structure within which the family slept and lived. The rear of the cart was stacked with their belongings.
Other Editions/Foreign Translations
In 2013, The Crow Eaters was translated in Urdu. This work is titled Junglewalla Sahib.
- David Higham Award for first books
Sidhwa’s first novel is a riotous mix of barnyard humor and a loving portrayal of the Parsi …This is a notable debut, leaving one with the hope that Sidhwa will provide many more such entertainments.
As his ox-drawn cart labors north, Faredoon Jungelwalla has no destination in mind. He just has faith, as all Parsees have, that he will know it when he sees it. And in Lahore his faith is rewarded. Inspired by the small Parsee community rushing to greet him, he settles in then and there, opening a store and depositing his wife and her loathsome mother Jerbanoo on the floor above. As years pass and his wealth increases, so does Jerbanoo's elephantine girth, but neither measure matches the dimension of their hatred for each other. Still, Faredoon is a realist. Things could change. The death of his favorite son is proof, as is the unexpected marriage of his ugly son Behram to the beautiful Tanya Easymoney. And India is changing. "Jolly good for jolly good, fart for fart, the cultures of East and West" are meeting. This is a comic novel stuffed with rich, spicy characters. Sidhwa makes every step of Faredoon's journey through time and culture a joy to read.
–Paul E. Hutchison, Library Journal
The Crow Eaters is a rollicking comic tale, with daring shifts… Throughout the novel, Sidhwa’s prose is boisterous, and The Crow Eaters never fails to entertain. She writes with an earthy zest and affection for her characters that makes us hope for subsequent novels continuing the Junglewalla clan’s story. Library Journal (*rd. review) This is a comic novel stuffed with rich, spicy characters. Sidhwa makes every step of Faredoon’s journey through time and culture a joy to read.
–Carolyne Wright, New York Times
A brilliant and illuminating novel. Sidhwa is funny and direct, and a most captivating poet, to boot.The Crow Eaters is a literary tapestry which shows us again and again how the small of this world can reflect the whole
–The New England Reviews of Books
Completely charming and very funny, The Crow Eaters whirls about the family circle of a Parsi clan in India. …The only complaint, and it is a serious one, that can be lodged against this novel is that it ends.
–April Bernard, New York Newsday
Bapsi Sidhwa is an original. Her work is wickedly observant.
Bapsi Sidhwa is a master of barnyard humor, contrasting the noveau-genteel manners of the patriarch with the vulgarity of his rotund nemesis—his mother-in-law. …wonderfully comic and entertaining novel by a talented writer.
–Edward Hower, Washington Post
Sidhwa, called “Pakistan’s finest English language novelist” tells her story with such charm and wit it is hard to put this book down.
–Holly Hildebrand, The Houston Post
Bapsi Sidhwa has written a picaresque, comic tale that recalls the past in charming detail.
–Los Angeles Times
The Parsis are described as smart, innovative, talkative, (they have eaten crow, according to legend), and best of all, ribald. Boy, are they ribald. …Speaking of comparisons, maybe if Galsworthy’s Forsytes were to convert to Zoroastrian…
–Dave Wood, Minneapolis Star Tribune
Sidhwa creates a strangely attractive world of doing business in British Lahore, the politics of putting up with in-laws, and prose that is so intelligently self-conscious that you conduct a dialogue with the writer and the characters at several levels.
–Shekhar Deshpande, Little India
This first novel is a funny, exotic, bawdy, ingenious, always entertaining book, full of surprises… The author, a Pakistani homemaker and mother of three, writes so vitally that her hero virtually seems to burst off the pages.
This book could have been written by Kipling. …an intriguing look at some sections of the subcontinent, this is a charming visit to India in the early 1900s. The wit is sparkling. The fragrances, sounds, and tactile aspects of Lahore are more entrancing than any travel brochure.
–San Diego Union
It is an entirely refreshing, spicy and satirical book which I recommend without reservation… Bapsi Sidhwa is a born writer and this novel marks a notable and witty debut.
–Cleveland Plain Dealer
…a delightful and perceptive view of the half-century struggle (1900-1947) of a Parsi family’s rise from rags to riches… The Crow Eaters is a most intelligent and enjoyable novel.
–The Seattle Times
Bapsi Sidhwa is herself a Parsi, and in this delightful first novel she introduces us to an unfamiliar segment of Indian life, with different religious customs and different goals. Her roguish hero is a genuine charmer, and her book is as warm and vital as it is funny. Kirkus Reviews (*ed. Review) Sidhwa—herself a Parsi from Lahore—extracts some admirable humanity and a drop of pathos from tough-apple Freddy…
–The Miami Herald
Bapsi Sidhwa’s first novel, The Crow Eaters, is a lively look at another world… Mrs. Sidhwa presents a loving and earthy portrait of life among the Parsis of India… The Crow Eaters is fascinating… The descriptions of Parsi customs and of life in Lahore, Bombay and London are rich in color, sound and aroma.
–Kansas City Star
Bapsi Sidhwa writes from a deep historical consciousness. Her evocation of Lahore is convincing—and charming to me, as a Lahorite myself. Her knowledge lends credence to the irony, as it arises out of a deep understanding of the place and people and their ways. Her voice is witty and piquant.
–Alamgir Hashmi, World Literature Today
…Sidhwa writes with an exuberance and geniality which make The Crow Eaters so illuminating and memorable.
–Jim Crace, The Sunday Times
…a novel of immense charm and exuberance… Sidhwa consistently imparts the magic and color of India even in its most down-to-earth aspects. A novel that is always refreshing and never dull.
–Mary Cosh, The Times
…Bapsi Sidhwa, …in a sprightly first novel shows that black comedy is by no means alien to the spirit of Indian writing. …The Crow Eaters is a pleasing piece of fiction—buoyant and good-humoured.
–Patricia Craig, The Times Literary Supplement, September 20, 1980
…The perspective is ironic, yet it is an indulgent irony, not a hostile, satirical one.…What her irony brings out in an amused and tolerant way are the human contradictions and paradoxes of the (Parsee) community. …The other unforgettable character in this entertaining, witty, and unpretentious first novel is Freddy’s stubborn, feuding mother-in-law, whom even he cannot vanquish.
–Peter Lewis, The Observer
The Crow Eaters is an excellent novel, a book about India which one can whole-heartedly enjoy rather than respectfully admire. The author is a born storyteller… who organizes her material well and writes with authority and flair. …A Parsi Forsyte Saga.
–Judy Cooke, The New Statesman
…The Crow Eaters is a wholly charming passage to India.
Right through the book, people chatter like crows… I liked reading about them, and became quite fond of the ghastly characters.
–Oswell Blakeston, The Tribune
Riotously funny. The book is delightfully refreshing.
–John Lavender, Huddersfield Daily Examiner
The Crow Eaters …is a deliriously, wickedly humorous look at a way of Indian life.
–Express & Echo
The Crow Eaters is a kind of great novel in chrysalis, a mini War and Peace with very little war.
–Stephen Glover, Daily Telegraph
A charming novel which combines the wisdom of the serpent and the innocence of the dove… quick and very intelligent.
–Hillary Bailey, Guardian
Sidhwa, a Parsi, writes with love and affection about her people. Her charming account of the rise of Faredoon Junglewalla is an attractive portrait of a hard-working, delightful scoundrel… Ironic, neat and funny.
–Gillian Somerville-Large, The Irish Times
From the very beginning of The Crow Eaters we are in a definite world, bubbling with wit and irony—unfamiliar and exotic, but right away the property of a born writer, Bapsi Sidhwa. Read it! It’s very good.
–Carla Phillips, Eastern Daily Press
… writes with great energy and enthusiasm, and the reader is swept up in her fast-moving narrative… wonderful ribald humour.
–Helen Harris, Fiction Magazine
A Parsi herself, Sidhwa writes out of an affection strong enough to allow for farce and satire, and so is free from the blight of folk-art. Her memorably comic characters are living an epic.
–Helen Harris, Fiction Magazine
Bapsi Sidhwa’s study of some archetypal characters of her community—the Parsees—deserves more than praise both as a sociological and as a literary document. The Parsees have always been flamboyantly prominent in public life: what goes on behind this façade has been, for most of us, as remote and mysterious as the underworld. Bapsi Sidhwa has opened for us all the doors and all the windows of this world’s innermost recesses. Ruthlessly truthful, deeply perceptive, she tells her story with rare courage, frankness and good humour. Her exposition, or exposure, may or may not please her confreres but it will certainly endear her to every reader who comes across this book. It is a veritable tour de force.
–Faiz Ahmed Faiz
Sidhwa’s most formidable asset as a storyteller is her comic imagination. Her first novel, The Crow Eaters, is a triumph in revelry. There is very little that Sidhwa’s deft pen misses as she creates an array of delightful, idiosyncratic Parsees. The result is a gallery of vivid, lovable rogues, with the pragmatic hero, Freddie Junglewalla, and his mother-in-law, the riotous Jerbanoo, heading the list of unforgettable characters.
–Githa Harihuaran, Economic Times
Writers like Bapsi Sidhwa enrich the English language in their search for new means of expression by adapting native proverbs and phrases and weaving them into their writing, so that the whole language seems to receive a new rhythm. Bapsi Sidhwa must be hailed as a trailblazer and The Crow Eaters a minor masterpiece which should make us realize the proper role of English in India as not merely that of “a window on the world” but as a medium through which we could look in, and estimate and savour what this subcontinent has to offer.
–Raj Kumar, Tribune, November 29, 1980
Running through the shifting colors of The Crow Eaters is a streak of humour so original and succinct that it lifts the entire context of the book from the humdrum to the surreal. The author stirs little packets of pure spice without any preamble or any of the cloying cuteness which normally surrounds the subject of sex in Indian writing. If we are shocked, it only means we have failed to realize that in India, the bizarre is commonplace. Sidhwa writes with an eye for the most savage encounters, yet at no time does she leave us space to doubt that what she says is the truth. The book is touched by a spark of freak genius which makes us seek out its light from among the multitudes.
–Manjula Padmanabhan, Parsiana, May 1980
I like The Crow Eaters the most because it exemplifies Sidhwa’s singular treatment of human character—as capable of both extraordinary cruelty and all-encompassing kindness. Two of her protagonists will live forever in the memories of The Crow Eaters’ readers: Frteddie Junglewalla, a lovable scoundrel who is the popular head of the Parsi community in Lahore, and Jerbanoo, Freddie’s mother-in-law and Ibete noire whose shrewish and humourless character is one of the funniest to inhabit the pages of a book.
–Prita Maitra, Cosmopolitan, May 1998