A novel that works on our nerves, The Wilderness examines human flesh in all its gruesome fascination: disease, madness, hunger, the taste of flies in the mouth. By day, the story describes the winding streets, filth and poverty of the Indian coastal town of Cochin, as seen from the carriage of a three-wheeled trishaw--the ring of its bell a lament and a warning. By night, it follows the crooked path of the dead cart, collecting the deceased or the nearly deceased. Its narrator creeps through the halls of a whorehouse, catching sight of himself in a mirror--pale, fearful. Death, the narcissist.
"The Wilderness, in contrast, straightforwardly explores a humanity-crowded wasteland of grit and beauty. Indian city is Indian city, African bush African bush. The portrayal of alienation focuses on the living heart of the matter. And the beauty in the writing evokes beauty even in the grit."—JR Foley
My room is a dungeon; I have banished myself. But the decision was taken so long ago, it is difficult to remember the reasons. Outside, through my single window, I see only haze, and at times, late in the afternoon, the red dust that comes sweeping through the sky. There are never any birds, they do not come here; the land is dead. Only the persistent flies, the insects, flock around this city, in numbers that seem to grow each day. I stare through the yellow glass, and wander about the room with my eyes. On the walls I find a map of the world: the continents, the oceans, the inland seas; black rivers, icy mountains; the sandy hills around Aliminos Bay, the jungle around Lahad Datu, the flat, diseased land at Exmouth Gulf, the peaks of Nuku Hiva; they are written in the urine stains, the broken plaster, the long cracks that wind through valleys and gorges, along the discolored countries. What is there to say? I have been everywhere. I find the red-painted Masai plains. The endless mornings line up behind each other. Light comes through a single window: gray and yellow and red, cold and warm and hot. Outside I hear noises, bullock carts, buses, people talking, the slap of their feet. Ah, I say, I am here, I am safe. I feel my mind turning and twisting. Images and visions poke forward, they thrust themselves in front of me. The cripple says: You are well fed, pampered, and rich. But I feel my arms and legs and chest. I am wasting away. The son says: Why do you drink arak? Why not whiskey, in your own country? Why do you come here? He stands in the park, the wind whipping his long white shirt. It is easy to smile and move off. My eyes can slip past him, and look at the trees. So much blood! cries a woman, but there was no blood, only sand and pain. The whore looks at me. Her small body twists in her bed, one arm thrown out, here eyes hooded with sleep. Is too late, she says, why you come here? But I tell her to move over. I lie beside her and dream of the ocean that came leaping against the cliffs. I hunted for crabs beneath the flat rocks, in the little pools of water. The girl sat, trembling with the roar of the sea.