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A Little Distillery in Nowgong

A Little Distillery in Nowgong

By Ashok Mathur
Categories: BIPOC, Asian Literature, Fiction
Hardcover : 9781551522586, 456 pages, 2009
Paperback : 9781551524610, 456 pages, 2012
Hardcover - Unavailable
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This fantastical historical novel, narrated by a child yet to be born, traces the lives of three generations of a Parsi family in India from the late 1800s to present day. The narrative follows the family from the intricacies of village life in the jungles of central India to the complications of urban life in turbulent pre- and post-independence struggles to contemporary diasporic realities in the United Kingdom and North America.

The novel begins in 1899 with the birth of a boy named Jamshed to a rural Parsi family in central India. As he comes of age, Jamshed feels he is faced with the choice between spirituality and materiality: he has the opportunity to train to become a Parsi priest, or may follow family connections to a business opportunity as a distillery manager. Jamshed, who will become the family patriarch as a result of his choice, quickly becomes obsessed with the question of free will, and he passes on this obsession to his descendants. His preoccupations, however, are complicated by frequent, often disturbing, visitations by his as-yet-unborn grandchildren, who may or may not come into existence based on the choices he makes.

This beautifully told, engaging novel, by the author of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize finalist The Short, Happy Life of Harry Kumar, humanizes the politics of ethnicity, culture, and colonial rule.


Ashok Mathur has always exhibited a peculiar genius for re-imagining what fiction can represent and make us feel, but never before on such a grandscale. A Little Distillery in Nowgong is about the riddle of genealogy and the past's hydraulic drag upon the present. It is an elaborate portrayal of a family's closeness and disconnection strung out over time and space. Most compellingly, it is a novel about novel writing itself, and a subtle reflection upon that essential and difficult question: how do we tell the stories that matter to us most?
-David Chariandy, author of Soucouyant

- David Chariandy

This is a compulsively readable work that unfolds naturally but surprises at every turn.
-Robert Wiersma, The National Post

- National Post

A heady blend of subtle, tricksterish wit and trenchant social commentary.
-Nalo Hopkinson, author of The Salt Roads

- Nalo Hopkinson

The novel maintains a sense of whimsy that builds into an unpredictable finish. ... As a storyteller, what Mathur tells us is that the vectors of personal identity-gender, faith, ethnicity, nationality-may be in constant flux, but do not disrupt powerful familial connections that sustain the passage of time.

-Canadian Literature

- Canadian Literature

One of the finest novels of the year. A Little Distillery in Nowgong is a welter of contradictions: It is at once a sweeping historical epic, spanning 100 years and three continents, and an intimate, character-based story. It is gritty and realistic while embracing a graceful magic; it is emotionally resonant and very often hilarious. ... A Little Distillery is note-perfect, a compulsively readable work that unfolds naturally but surprises at every turn. I'm so glad I didn't miss it, and you shouldn't, either.

-Vancouver Sun

- Vancouver Sun