Coinman: An Untold Conspiracy by Pawan Mishra is a quirky, heartfelt novel about finding your identity – and keeping it.
The search for personal fulfillment is a lifelong journey for most, and along the way, it is necessary to establish the identity you want, the work you cherish, the people you respect, and the love you deserve. In Pawan Mishra’s oddly charming novel, readers are welcomed into the strangely neurotic, passionate, and unfulfilled existence of Coinman, a simple office worker with a jangling passion for coins.
The title of the book suggests this slightly odd premise, but the majority of the book is actually a “day in the life” look at a humble Indian man trying to make his way through a rather extraordinary world.
The author raises the banality of normal life to new heights within this novel, and does so in an amusing and thought-provoking way. Office pranks and casual crushes are depicted in epic fashion, while simple conversations, glances, or offhand comments are pulled apart and analyzed by the author’s tireless narration. This offers room throughout the story for social commentary about the dull pain of dead-end jobs, casual betrayal, the evolution of marriage, two-faced friends, the fear of aging parents, and other less common emotional issues of adulthood.
This book is largely character-driven, and the author gradually reveals the internal mechanics and daily madness of Coinman from different perspectives, slowly earning him the empathy and understanding of readers. The different points of view used within the story also show the author’s ability to inhabit a variety of characters, and tell a comprehensive tale that can be appreciated from all angles.
Readers are invited to peek in on rather ordinary scenes of Coinman’s domestic and professional life, and experience the detailed struggles of adult life from all sides. As readers begin to understand the diverse contexts in which Coinman exists, they inevitably see more of themselves in the character. He is not a bumbling fool, nor is he deserving of the mockery and wrath of his co-workers or wife. He is merely a man doing his best to survive without compromising the things he cares about, or the identity he works hard to cultivate.
The search for identity and comfort in one’s own skin dominates many of the short vignettes and interactions between characters, and is particularly strong in the character of Imli, Coinman’s wife. Her theatrical roles come to define her life, from playing a ghost and abandoning all mortal possessions, to acting as a jealous wife who suspects her husband of adultery with the maid. She is a chameleon in every sense of the word, deriving meaning and purpose from the masks she wears, and forcing Coinman to temporarily inhabit those worlds alongside her. This is starkly contrary to Coinman, who seems determined to find pleasure in his own strange brand of life, yet also remains endlessly devoted to his unusual partner.
This is far from an action-packed book, namely because the author tends to use narration a bit too much, not allowing characters to speak their minds, but rather utilizing internal monologues and heavy exposition throughout the story. This can get a bit much at times, but this is also Mishra’s time to flex his literary and descriptive muscles.
While the author’s native language is clearly not English, the slightly odd dialect of the dialogue makes it a more endearing and authentic story, and isn’t as distracting as one might expect. A steady editorial hand would have also helped with some of the more disjointed scenes, and suggested where the plot could be strengthened (or cut down). Despite its occasional failings, the story is uniquely enjoyable, and Coinman is a character that will be hard to forget.
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