Winner of the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing, Priyanka Champaneri’s transcendent debut novel brings us inside India’s holy city of Banaras, where the manager of a death hostel shepherds the dying who seek the release of a good death, while his own past refuses to let him go.
Banaras, Varanasi, Kashi: India’s holy city on the banks of the Ganges has many names but holds one ultimate promise for Hindus. It is the place where pilgrims come for a good death, to be released from the cycle of reincarnation by purifying fire. As the dutiful manager of a death hostel in Kashi, Pramesh welcomes the dying and assists families bound for the funeral pyres that burn constantly on the ghats. The soul is gone, the body is burnt, the time is past, he tells them. Detach.
After ten years in the timeless city, Pramesh can nearly persuade himself that here, there is no past or future. He lives contentedly at the death hostel with his wife, Shobha, their young daughter, Rani, the hostel priests, his hapless but winning assistant, and the constant flow of families with their dying kin. But one day the past arrives in the lifeless form of a man pulled from the river—a man with an uncanny resemblance to Pramesh.
Called “twins” in their childhood village, he and his cousin Sagar are inseparable until Pramesh leaves to see the outside world and Sagar stays to tend the land. After Pramesh marries Shobha, defying his family’s wishes, a rift opens up between the cousins that he has long since tried to forget. Do not look back. Detach. But for Shobha, Sagar’s reemergence casts a shadow over the life she’s built for her family. Soon, an unwelcome guest takes up residence in the death hostel, the dying mysteriously continue to live, and Pramesh is forced to confront his own ideas about death, rebirth, and redemption.
Told in lush, vivid detail and with an unforgettable cast of characters, The City of Good Death is a remarkable debut novel of family and love, memory and ritual, and the ways in which we honor the living and the dead.
PRAISE FOR THE CITY OF GOOD DEATH
“In Champaneri’s ambitious, vivid debut, the dying come to the holy city of Kashi to die a good death that frees them from the burden of reincarnation. . . . In sharp prose, Champaneri explores the power of stories—those the characters tell themselves, those told about them, and those they believe. . . . This epic, magical story of death teems with life.”
“Brimming with characters whose lives overlap and whose stories interweave, Champaneri’s exquisite debut delves into the consequences of the past, and how stories that are told can become reality even when they contain barely a shred of truth. As Pramesh discovers, the bitterness of past wounds can bring hope for redemption and life.”
—Bridget Thoreson, Booklist
“Lush prose evokes the thick, close atmosphere of Kashi and the intricate religious practices upon which life and death depend. Rumor and superstition hold sway over even the most level-headed people, twisting what’s explainable into something extraordinary—with tragic consequences. . . . The City of Good Death is a breathtaking, unforgettable novel about how remembering the past is just as important as moving on.”
—Eileen Gonzalez, Foreword Reviews, Starred Review
"Champaneri’s Kashi is teeming and vivid . . . the book frequently charms, and it's as full of humor, warmth, and mystery as Kashi’s own marketplace."
“The City of Good Death is the debut novel of Priyanka Champaneri but it has the confidence of a master storyteller. Drawing on the rich literary traditions of Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy, Champaneri’s epic saga will satisfy armchair travelers thirsty for adventure, and sick of looking out their windows.”
—Chicago Review of Books
"In intricate detail and with remarkable skill, Champaneri writes a powerful tale about the pull of the past and our aching need to understand the mysteries and misunderstandings that thwart our relationships. An atmospheric and immersive debut with a rich cast of characters you won’t soon forget."
—Marjan Kamali, author of The Stationery Shop
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Priyanka Champaneri received her MFA in creative writing from George Mason University and has been a fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts numerous times. She received the 2018 Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing for The City of Good Death, her first novel.