Book review: The Sea of Innocence by Kishwar Desai

Goa, south India. A beautiful holiday hideaway where hippies and backpackers while away the hours. But beneath the clear blue skies lies a dirty secret…

The Sea of Innocence by Kishwar DesaiSimran Singh, a 40-something social worker-come-crime investigator is holidaying in Goa with her teenage daughter Durga. All she wants is the sun, sand, and an idyllic, relaxed holiday. But all of that is spoilt when she gets a disturbing video clip featuring a young girl being attacked by a group of men. And then comes Amarjit, her on-again-off-again flame, to spoil her holiday.

He begs her to send Durga back home to Delhi and help him to find out what happened to the Liza, the girl in the video. Enter Marianne, her sister, who fills in some of the details of the crime but is deliberately vague about the exact timeline.

As Simran gets pulled into the case, she finds out more than she bargained for about Goa’s dark underbelly:

the web of lies and dark connections that flourish on these beaches. Everyone, it seems, knows what has happened to the girl but no one is prepared to say. And when more videos appear, and Simran herself is targeted in order to keep her quiet, the paradise soon becomes a living nightmare.

This is the third Simran Singh novel by Kishwar Desai – I haven’t read the first two. But that didn’t detract from the reading experience at all.

The novel is well crafted, and Desai brings up a lot of hot-button topics, weaving the brutal Delhi gang rape and protests from last year with some details on the Scarlett Keeling case as well – a young British girl who was found raped and murdered on a beautiful Goan beach.

The novel raises a lot of questions too – about how our perceptions of “the foreigners” colors our judgement of their fate. For example, Simran questions how Liza and Marianne could have accepted drinks (which Marianne later found were spiked with drugs) from strangers, but when she does the exact same thing – and is drugged – she realizes the fallacy of her judgement

I loved Simran’s character. I mean, how can’t you fall in love with a 40-something year old single woman who says:

Luckily other pursuits – drinking, smoking and flirtatious relationship – have added quality to my life.

While the pace isn’t exactly break-neck, it is quite fast, and at no point does it flag. And the twist at the end is a real kicker – I don’t think I  would ever have guessed it!

The book stays with your for a while after you finish reading – forcing you to find some of your own answers to the questions and topics that Desai raises in the novel.

Overall, it’s a hard-hitting book, and I would definitely recommend it.

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Disclaimer: I received the book from the publisher, but the review and opinions expressed are my own.

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  1. That’s a good point you make about our perception of foreigners. Kishwar Desai really brought this up in a very subtle way in her book,.

    Overall, very enjoyable read, and thought-provoking also though I was a bit disappointed over the ending.

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