The One Who Wrote Destiny is a compelling novel about three generations of one family and their destinies, successes, and failures. It opens with Mukesh, who moves from Kenya to Keighley in the 1960s expecting to find a rock ’n’ roll lifestyle and instead finds a foreign and strange place, racism, and the love of his life. Neha, Mukesh’s daughter, is a logical computer programmer and she’s also dying whilst trying to avoid telling her father or her twin brother, Rak. Rak’s a stand up comedian who is facing the fact it might not be his jokes, but who he is that is causing his career problems. And finally, Ba meets her young grandchildren for the first time and has to care for them, but Neha and Rak are used to England, not Kenya, and Ba is haunted by the deaths in her family.
The characters are endearing and interesting, reflecting on their personal situations and also on more systematic issues around race, immigration, and difference. The novel is held together by the stories and certainties that families hold close, for example their tendency to die of certain things or their belief in something or another being their destiny. Neha’s portion of the narrative is perhaps the most engrossing, with her specific view of the world causing her to try and organise her family’s deaths in categories whilst dealing with her family, her cancer diagnosis, and her almost-romance with a girl in her local bar. Both Neha and Rak’s sections of the story are set in the modern day and this allows Shukla to highlight different forms of oppression and cultural identity today, from comedy panel shows to tautology.
This is a novel that is both crucial and heartwarming, with great characters and a carefully woven narrative. It foregrounds the importance of language and place in a variety of ways, from the languages characters do and don’t speak to the ways people frame their lives and their homes using words. and raises important points that arise in the lives of its characters. It is undoubtably a big novel for 2018 that is current and clever.