EM AND THE BIG HOOM

Jerry Pinto

Meet Imelda and Augustine, or—as our young narrator calls his unusual parents—Em and the Big Hoom. Most of the time, Em smokes endless beedis and sings her way through life. She is the sun around which everyone else orbits. But as enchanting and high-spirited as she can be, when Em’s bipolar disorder seizes her she becomes monstrous, sometimes with calamitous consequences for herself and others. This accomplished debut is graceful and urgent, with a one-of-a-kind voice that will stay with readers long after the last page.

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Meet Imelda and Augustine, or—as our young narrator calls his unusual parents—Em and the Big Hoom. Most of the time, Em smokes endless beedis and sings her way through life. She is the sun around which everyone else orbits. But as enchanting and high-spirited as she can be, when Em’s bipolar disorder seizes her she becomes monstrous, sometimes with calamitous consequences for herself and others. This accomplished debut is graceful and urgent, with a one-of-a-kind voice that will stay with readers long after the last page.

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  • Penguin Books
  • Paperback
  • June 2014
  • 224 Pages
  • 9780143124764

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About Jerry Pinto

Jerry Pinto is a writer of poetry, prose, and children’s fiction, as well as being a journalist. Em and the Big Hoom is his first novel. He lives in Mumbai, India.

Praise

Profoundly moving . . . I cannot remember when I last read something as touching as this.” —Amitav Ghosh, author of The Glass Palace

Pinto’s engaging debut, ripe with wit and affection, portrays an unforgettable family of four in middleclass, Catholic Mumbai as their lives revolve around their manic-depressive matriarch, Em.” — Booklist

“Em and the Big Hoom is a beautiful book, a child’s-eye view of madness and sorrow, full of love, pain, and, unaccountably, much wild comedy. One of the very best books to come out of India in a long, long, time.” – Salman Rushdie, Best of the Booker winner for Midnight’s Children

Pinto chases the elusive portrait of a mother who simply said of herself that she was mad. As I read the novel, that also portrays a very tender marriage and the life of a Goan family in Bombay, it drowned me. I mean that in the best way. It plunged me into a world so vivid and capricious, that when I finished, I found something had shifted and changed within myself. This is a world of magnified and dark emotion. The anger is a primal force, the sadness wild and raw. Against this, the jokes are hilarious, reckless, free falling… This is a rare, brilliant book, one that is wonderfully different from any other I that I have read coming out of India.” – Kiran Desai, author of The Inheritance of Loss, Winner of the Man Booker Prize and National Book Critics Circle Fiction Award

Discussion Questions

We end up learning so much about Em’s personality through reading her letters and journal entries, especially insight into her feelings about The Big Hoom. When we read The Big Hoom’s return letters, what insight do they give us, if any, into the man that he is?

When our narrator is a teenager, he takes a trip to Goa alone with The Big Hoom. While Augustine is describing a doctor he once worked for and admired, our narrator confesses: I had discovered The Big Hoom’s Hero. I did not want my hero to have a hero (p. 82). Why do you think that had been his reaction? Have you ever felt similarly about a hero of yours?

Our narrator is forthcoming about the fear of his own looming “madness.” In order to combat this fear, he takes detailed inventory of his emotions and their reasoning. Are there moments when you must catalog your own feelings in order to better understand them? Is this a possible function of Em’s journaling in her early life?

When Em reveals that’s she emptied the family’s emergency funds, it is one of the few times we see The Big Hoom react emotionally. Why do you suppose this was such a violation to him? Was his reaction warranted? Why?

Given the instability in the Mendes household, we rarely have a glimpse of Em being unkind to The Big Hoom. What are some ways that Em expresses her love for her family? What are some ways that her “madness” works to bring her family closer together?

What is your impression of Em’s mother role in her illness?

There are many different faiths and belief systems represented throughout the novel, though our narrator expresses his own religious inclinations twice: once when he addresses his atheism and another time when he is briefly moved by “the blue hand” of Hinduism. What are some ways that faith manifests for other members of the Mendes family?

What do you think is the significance of naming and nicknaming in the novel?

There is a scene in which our narrator returns home from a terrible workday and is greeted by Em in a particularly manic state. In a moment of frustration he calls his mother “a disgusting bitch,” and later wonders if she recalls it and was hurt by it. In this scene, and in others, do you think Em knows more than she lets on?

Toward the end of the novel, when The Big Hoom is in Brazil on a business trip, Em’s children make a difficult decision concerning her short-term care. Would you have done the same? Why or why not?