Skin: Margaret Mascarenhas
India Today March 2001

Let me make this clear: Skin is a good book and Margaret Mascarenhas a writer, whose prose has this superb ability to keep you shackled to the book to its very last page, which arrives too quickly. And therein lies its inherent flaw.

A multi-generation saga needs deft pacing. While it needn't be as elaborate as Kunta Kinte[ Him of the Roots] and his descendants, Skin barely probes beyond the skin of a generation. Characters with great promise come and go and most of them remain unresolved. Even before one can wonder what really happened, the narrative has moved to the next branch of the family tree. Instead of being a saga, Skin reads as a series of vignettes, enchanting as they are, quite unsatisfying.

The story begins with Pagan [Air headed twenty year olds from Mills & Boon romances usually have such names], who is the last descendant of the Miranda Flores family and in her American life, is suddenly rift with angst about her origins. That she is of mixed parentage further aggravates her confusion about who she really is. She returns to India, to Goa and sets about unravelling her family's past that goes back to the late 17th century. Entwined in its skeins is the story of an Angolan prophetess and her last descendant. To give away anything more would be spoiling the surprise which is one of the nicest aspects of Skin.

But I must confess that at the end of Skin, I have no option but to conclude that the author is of the school that believes there is no such thing as a coincidence and instead everything is preordained. And so, coincidence after coincidence pop up till one begins to feel that every time, the writer had a choice to make about which direction the narrative should move, she plonked yet another coincidence and evaded the dilemma. That and the author's proclivity to borrow from Hollywood moments [for example the proposal scene in the subway station from Crocodile Dundee] and from fairy tales [ shard of mirror in the heart etc] tend to suggest a self indulgence of sorts. But these are minor flaws.

Overall, Skin is a good read and perhaps in her next book Margaret Mascarenhas will get into the flesh of the matter.

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