The Outcast is a modern contemporary read with two settings: Penzance, Cornwall and Kolkata, India. Rose begins as an overprotective, caring but chaotic café owner. The book opens with her frantic for news of her daughter, due home from a gap year in India, on a plane reported as missing.
However this isn’t where the story heads, Ellie, we discover wasn’t on the plane, she has stayed on to work with children of the Dalits (Untouchables) the lowest caste in India and those shunned by society.
Rose needs to see her daughter, to try to bridge the gap between them, to ask for forgiveness. So she hands over the running of her café to Hannah and rushes to India, with no planning, no injections and no thought as to what she may find. Some might call her brave, others silly, her one thought is to find Ellie.
But Ellie’s not particularly pleased to see her mother, she fears she’ll try to run her life for her again. If Rose wants to spend time with Ellie, then she’ll need to help. Ellie plunges Rose into the poverty, stench, crowds and extreme conditions that the Dalits exist by. Working alongside charities and volunteers who give their time, money and love to those ignored by the authorities.
Along side the story from India, the book gives us chapters from Penzance and the café. Just as the Dalits are the outcasts of society in India, we are shown of outcasts here too. Hannah’s mother Willow is a druggie and homeless, she comes to stay with Hannah, bringing with her trouble. Hannah tries hard to keep the café running to Rose’s standards and keep the customers happy.
Rose is both appalled and consumed by the treatment of different groups in India and how accepting they are of their situation. Another volunteer, Maria sums it up;
“Karma. Endure without complaint and your next life will be better”.
The writing style is very atmospheric, you definitely see, hear, smell, taste as Rose does. The pacing is fast due to an unusual use of extremely short sentences. A technique which left me constantly thinking I needed to catch up and the style is quite exhausting at times. Rose had my admiration, not everyone could be so giving to people in these situations nor expose themselves to the conditions she had to work and live in. An inspiring read.
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