“Swami On Rye – Max in India” – by Maira Kalman

Book Review:

“Swami On Rye – Max in India” by Maira Kalman – 1995, received together along with “Cassandra Darke” as a family in-joke over Christmas 2018, but also a nod towards my interest in the quirky and off-beat, is a different beast to “Cassandra Darke” – it’s literally about a dog (called Max) and the deceptively naive graphic style that Kalman brings to the book suggests something more appropriate for a younger reader.

An imprint of the New York Review Children’s Collection, I think that all ages would enjoy this due to the level of sophistication in the writing, which occasionally lapses into doggerel verse, perhaps as a deliberate pun on the subject of the story.

I wasn’t familiar with Maira Kalman’s work before receiving this book and the publishing date is 1995 – this could be because she is less well-known outside of the U.S – so it’s a good introduction to a large body of work, that, in amongst many children books, includes collaborations with David Byrne of “Talking Heads”.

A slim A4 size book is packed with wry comic text – an integral part of the design and page layout so that there is unity of text and illustration – and full page illustrations detailing the eponymous heros’ brief spiritual quest via a trip to India – clearly based on actual observation and sketch books of a visit to India that Kalman must have made at some stage, as evidenced by the observational drawings on the end-papers.

The pace of the narrative is quite breathless as Max rushes across the Subcontinent to find illumination and ends as eventually he returns to New York and his family via a series of increasingly surreal encounters – the denouement involves a herring, but you must read it to find out how…

Ravi Swami 2018