When you die in your own filth: review of Badami’s The Hero’s Walk

Here’s the thing: home is supposed to make your insides flutter. Home is supposed to be a place of comfort, and a place of joy. Home is supposed to be filled with happy memories and warm images of your parents in the dining room. This isn’t the case for the characters in Anita Rau Badami’s The Hero’s Walk. Unlike the warm and fuzzy images that stereotypically describe a family, home is merely a safety blanket for all the main characters in the novel.

The Hero’s Walk is a novel surrounding the inhabitants of Big House, a deteriorating house on Brahmin Street. After the death of Maya, Sripathi’s eldest daughter, shakes the family, Sripathi and his family must figure out their lives as they watch tradition and history crumble away in front of their eyes. They have to choose between societal pressures and doing what is right.

Even though this was an assigned reading for class, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and its content. Badami’s writing is like poetry on its own: beautiful and compelling. The work is riddled with motifs and recurring themes, which adds to the complexity of the novel. The language is straightforward and there are many interesting subplots beneath the general story.

One of the greatest parts of The Hero’s Walk is that Badami doesn’t ignore the complexities of human nature. Each character has an arc in some form, even if its subtle. Even Ammayya has a fleshed out backstory that leads to her current state of being. Each inhabitant of Big House grows in their own way. This focus on family and characters really emphasise the importance of intimacy in the novel. Even though each character has a small story line of their own, they all come together into one overarching plot: the struggle to find themselves as a result of Maya’s death.

Be warned: the novel is not a very easy one to start. The first two chapters are extremely boring and will dump character names on you like a gushing waterfall. Badami also chooses to tell us all about the characters’ personalities rather than show her readers who they are through interactions, etc. Once you get over the first two chapters, you’ll finally learn to appreciate Badami’s artistry as the story finally gets into the nitty gritty.

For a novel heavily revolving around characters and character development, Badami seems to almost skip world building all together. While we do get the general idea of what Torturpuram and Brahmin Street look like, we don’t get anything beyond the general descriptions. I cannot for the life of me flesh out what the city is supposed to look like. The story would have made a lot more sense in the beginning if I had a good image of Torturpuram in my head.

Overall, this novel is a great read if you like contemporary fiction, and really strays from the wilderness stereotype that defines Canadian fiction. It is a bit slow to start at first, but you will warm up to it really fast as a reader. I highly recommend this book, and give this a rating of 4/5 stars.