MLA Platinum Award Press Release

BookBrowse Reviews Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Em and the Big Hoom

by Jerry Pinto

Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto X
Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Paperback:
    Jun 2014, 224 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
Buy This Book

About this Book



Featuring richly drawn characters, this engaging tale evaluates the effects of mental illness on families.

Jerry Pinto's debut novel, Em and the Big Hoom, is the story of a Mumbai family trying to cope with their matriarch's bipolar disorder and the impact it has on those around her.

As the book opens we discover that Imelda Mendes ("Em") is, in her words, "mad," has attempted suicide for a third time, and the unnamed narrator, her teen son, is holding conversations with her, trying to take her back in time to discover when exactly her bipolar symptoms began to manifest themselves. Surely, he thinks, there must have been signs; there had to have been a trigger that caused her to begin acting out. He goes through her letters, asks for recollections from his older sister Susan and father Augustine (the eponymous Big Hoom, although no one remembers how he got this nickname), and talks to doctors. The son's search doesn't provide answers but along the way he develops an appreciation for the infuriating, eccentric, irreverent, tormented, glorious woman who is his mother; the book is ultimately a loving homage to a truly remarkable person.

Given the subject matter one would think this would be a grim, depressing tale, but Pinto injects just the right amount of humor into the narrative. Throughout, he uses conversations between mother and son to both illuminate their temperaments and to add a sense of lightness to the overall tone. The narrator asks Em why she refers to her husband as "LOS." She informs him it stands for "Limb of Satan" –

"Because he was always tempting me to sin," she said.
"Who was?"...
"Your father."
"It's not a sin if you're married, is it?"
"It's always a sin according to the Wholly Roaming Cat Licks."
"That can't be true."
"Can it not? I think you're only supposed to do it if you want babies. I wanted four but Hizzonner said, 'Then you pay for the other two.' That, as they say, was that. And I had to give the twenty-six others away."

Perhaps the major highlight of the novel is Pinto's ability to create truly wonderful characters. Em is one of the most unforgettable and richly painted women in literature I've come across; she's quirky and outlandish but in a completely believable way. She has a radiance about her – a vivacity – that is quite endearing. And yet during her depressive episodes she's capable of incredible cruelty to those who love her. At one point she tells her son that children "turn a good respectable woman into a mudd-dha. I didn't want to be a mudd-dha. I didn't want to be turned inside out. I didn't want to have my world shifted so that I was no longer the center of it…It never happens to men. They just sow the seed and hand out the cigars when you've pushed a football through your vadge. For the next hundred years of your life, you're stuck with being someone whose definition isn't even herself. You're now someone's mudd-dha!"

The narrator is the perfect picture of a confused, hurt, worried young man. His desire to find a reason for his mother's illness is partially based on his concern his birth may have been what initiated it. As he grows older and more accepting of his mother's problems, he also begins to worry that he or his sister may be prone to bipolar disorder, and he wonders if he will be vigilant enough to recognize if either of them start to slide into mental illness. Pinto records the narrator's voice so convincingly that one has a hard time believing the story isn't autobiographical; it comes across as exceptionally heartfelt and genuine.

Although the novel takes place in Mumbai, the setting plays very little role in the plot. This is a bit of a surprise given the stigma associated with mental illness in conservative countries like India. One would have expected there to be some mention of prejudice against Em because of her malady. But the story is told from the viewpoint of a young man, and at its core the novel is about his relationship with his mother and his personal reactions to her unpredictable presence in his life. Consequently the point of view is rather insular and self-absorbed; in very realistic fashion the teenager simply doesn't notice others' reactions.

Em and the Big Hoom is a slim little book that packs an enormous emotional wallop. This is one of those novels that will leave an impression on its readers and likely be remembered long after it's read. It will certainly resonate with those who have had experience with mental illness, and its universal theme of parent-child relationships will also strike a familiar cord with many readers.

Reviewed by Kim Kovacs

This review is from the Em and the Big Hoom. It first ran in the September 3, 2014 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Join Now!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    by Carolina De Robertis
    Cantoras by Carolina De Robertis follows five characters who share a house, troubles, joys and parts...
  • Book Jacket: Daughters Of Smoke & Fire
    Daughters Of Smoke & Fire
    by Ava Homa
    Ava Homa's debut novel begins with an epigraph by Sherko Bekas, a Kurdish poet, the last lines of ...
  • Book Jacket: The Book of V.
    The Book of V.
    by Anna Solomon
    In ancient Persia, Esther, a young Jewish woman, parades herself in front of the king in a desperate...
  • Book Jacket: How to Be an Antiracist
    How to Be an Antiracist
    by Ibram X. Kendi
    Ibram X. Kendi opens How to Be an Antiracist with a personal story he finds shameful in retrospect, ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Stone Girl
    by Dirk Wittenborn

    A riveting tale of deception, vengeance, and power set against the haunting beauty of the Adirondacks.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Voyage of the Morning Light
    by Marina Endicott

    A sweeping novel set aboard a merchant ship sailing through the South Pacific in 1912.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
The Beekeeper of Aleppo
by Christy Lefteri

This moving, intimate, and beautifully written novel puts human faces on the Syrian war.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win Of Bears and Ballots

An Alaskan Adventure in Small-Town Politics

A charming account of holding local office with an entertaining, quirky cast of characters.



Solve this clue:

A S Louder T W

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.