The Cauliflower by Nicola Barker is a semi-biographical, spiritually investigative, and entirely comedic novel about the Hindu Swami Sri Ramakrishna, about religion in general, and about perspective.
The Cauliflower is told from a variety of perspectives and from a multitude of vantage points. Spanning a wide cast of characters, all who have some form of contact with Sri Ramakrishna, the book does not follow a conventional biographical telling, instead, the various narrators skip through years out of sequential order but in an order that reveals more about the characters themselves.
While The Cauliflower is a biographically fictional story of Sri Ramakrishna and his rise to “fame,” Barker also investigates interlaying themes that extend beyond the simple telling of this one particular story. The nature of reality of the ability to clearly define anything is a theme that recurs throughout The Cauliflower in a variety of ways. In fact, the reader is made to question what exactly this book is: is it a book, a biography, a newspaper report. At one point, Barker raises the question herself, “Is this book a farce, a comedy, a tragedy, or a melodrama?” Though she does not answer her own question, it appears by the end, that The Cauliflower, and by extension life, must be all three.
Another related theme is the meaning of veracity and certainty, particularly as it relates to religion and perspective. As mentioned above, The Cauliflower is told from different perspectives, but the reader can’t be certain who is telling the truth or what “truth” even means in the novel. Many of the characters disagree on certain events or even on descriptions of other characters; but further, the characters also disagree with themselves. Barker seems to beg the question, what is truth when we all are standing in, and coming from, different places – even if we are all seeing the same thing? This metaphor is extended to religion, and not only the Hindu religion that Sri Ramakrishna inhabits, but all religions.
Though The Cauliflower is a bit slow in the beginning because the reader needs to meet and become accustomed to not only the numerous characters and perspectives, but also the general layout of the book as rather disoriented, once it does pick up speed, it is hard to put down. Overall, this journalistic, meta-reality novel is a beautiful and comedic look into the intricacies and complication involved in living life, following religion, and finding peace with perspective.
The Cauliflower by Nicola Barker was released in 2016 by Henry Holt & Company and is available for purchase at your local bookstore.
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FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.