Abhay, an Indian college student studying in the U.S. but home on vacation in Bombay, shoots a scavenging monkey; the dying creature reveals itself to be the reincarnation of Sanjay Parasher, a fiery, iconoclastic 19th-century poet and freedom-fighter against British rule. To remain alive, the monkey strikes a deal with the gods: he must keep Abhay’s family entertained each day by telling stories of his former lives. Around this fanciful premise, Indian novelist Chandra has built a powerful, moving saga that explores colonialism, death and suffering, ephemeral pleasure and the search for the meaning of life. Through the monkey’s tales, we learn of Sanjay’s lethal estrangement from his best friend, Sikander, an Anglo-Indian warrior who serves the British; of the suicide of Sikander’s mother, Janvi, who throws herself on a funeral pyre after her English husband gives away their daughters to missionaries; of Sanjay’s avenging showdown in London with Dr. Paul Sarthey, renowned orientalist and murderous imperialist. Abhay also narrates his own sprawling tale about his drive across the U.S. with two alienated fellow students, providing a dramatic contrast between America’s throwaway pop culture and India’s ancient, venerated ways, bound up with the concepts of dharma (right conduct), karma and reincarnation.