HOUSE BOY by Lorenzo DeStefano: Book Review

You would have heard this sometime in your life that the Caste system is limited to India and the ‘West’ is free of any such evil form of stratification. Well, the novel- House Boy, provides ample evidence against the statement. The story of a 24-year-old Dalit boy, Vijay, who finds himself experiencing in England, what he thought he left behind in India- Caste-based discrimination, is profoundly brought to us by Lorenzo DeStefano.

House Boy is a ‘based on true events’ thriller exploring the tragedy of human trafficking, slavery, sexual abuse, and racial and caste discrimination through the experiences of a young Indian Dalit, who is brainwashed and manipulated into dreaming about his destiny as that of a ‘rag-to-riches’ tale. I was strongly reminded of Mende Nazer’s powerful memoir, Slave, which is a daunting account of her experience as a slave in Sudan. Stefano brings out the terrifying reality of slavery from behind the veils of secrecy, out in the open, for the readers to experience through the novel.

Vijay, a Dalit man from Chettipattu, South India is lured into accepting the high-profile domestic job in England, promising him great wages and pleasant working conditions which will surely help him to uplift to a much better life for himself, his parents, and his two bachelor sisters. Little does he realize that this fantasy is all but a selfish trap of  scammy flesh merchants who are inadvertently offering him as prey to one of the upper-class “obnoxious” individuals of England, Mrs. Binda Tagorstani.

Being pushed into a new and unexpected world of domestic slavery, which is worse than being an animal or kept in prison, he is being made to live in a cupboard beneath the stairs. Vijay is subjected to all kinds of humiliation and atrocities, who has to surrender to this fateful obscenity, time and again, as and how his Missus, employer Binda, demands of him. Having been reduced to becoming a rag doll, an untouchable who has all but fallen victim to this cruel twist of fate, impoverished, with absolutely no scope for fighting off what he finds himself standing in, Vijay eventually finds a way out of the labyrinth in the climax.

Once the preliminary shudder of explicit accounts wanes, there emerges a raw and compelling spirit within the narrative. It centers around Vijay, whose inconceivable misery is illustrative of the assumed hardships executed by our hypocritical society. This society, always unjust and unfair, particularly towards those in the lower rung of discriminatory systems of stratification, struggling to make ends meet, often lack the judgment to see through the grandiose facade. These individuals, due to their vulnerability, become trapped in the vicious cycle of degradation, a never-ending quagmire that threatens to wear away their humanity and obligates them to act in ways that they are not proud of. These crumbs of society have to confront socio-political and racial discrimination. This book provides a shockingly real account of that. It reveals a disheartening, shocking, and shameful aspect of our world, urging us to confront the truths that we would prefer to blanket forever.

One of the most intriguing characters of the novel is QC Hay, who is introduced in the second part of the novel. He is the lawyer who represents Vijay’s case in the court. With his crisp arguments and satirical humor, he brings in the much-needed lightness in the otherwise depressing plot. His dedication towards his client is professional and yet humane in a way that is unique even to Vijay. He understands the importance of the theme of the novel and showcases fearlessness in standing against the atrocities. An intellectual with a quirky sense of humor, Hay is a relatable character who has practical clarity around the subject, which many of the other characters fail to acquire.

Lorenzo DeStefano, through this heart-wrenching novel, brings forth the predicament of the society’s destitute for all to experience through his words. Forcing us to confront what we are already aware of, the not-so-secret secrets, this novel brings into light those ‘skeletons within the closet’. What makes this novel unique is how with such a powerful plot, the author ensures that every character is realistic, relatable and faces a unique dilemma within the same overarching theme and the elements of the story, though scattered throughout, find a way to  resonate with you in the ending chapters of the second part, compelling you to look at the horrendous plight of the entire journey in an unflinching way.

DeStefano’s detailed prose makes House Boy a difficult novel to read emotionally as readers witness the appalling way Vijay is treated by his ‘owner’ and her son. I was particularly intrigued by the reactions of the few visitors to the house, all of whom were only too aware of what was going on, yet either would not risk their relationships with Binda to intervene or did not seem to see anything wrong in how she abused her house boy. While the novel is uncomfortable and disturbing in parts to read, I think that it is an important novel for raising awareness of the unjust reality of the world, human trafficking, and slavery, which we would want to believe to have vanished from the world in the 21st century.

While the novel is one of the most graphic I’ve ever read, I felt a disconnect with the writing style and language. There are descriptions of sexual harassment, rampant city corruption, notorious gang battles, enslavement, physical and emotional abuse, extremities of racial and caste discrimination, murder, and rape that are simply treated as some kind of exotic curiosa. Moreover, the character development for a lot of the characters feels random. The long multiple-page character introductions feel unnecessary and overwhelm the reader with information that is futile to the story ahead. This not only makes the novel more complex to read but disrupts the flow of the reader, especially in a novel that is dealing with an uncomfortable theme. Furthermore, some parts of the novel seem abrupt, such as Vijay’s friendly relationship with Sheela. Finally, this novel needs a trigger warning as it provides detailed and explicit details of abuse, which might not be appropriate for some.

As someone who is always curious and enthusiastic to delve into the realm of society, this novel was no less than a gem to me. Though explicit and disturbing, DeStefano gives you the reality without sugar-coating it. The novel gives ample evidence of how casteism seeps into the world and is not the reality of only the conservative ‘East’. The social commentary and racial tonalities of the book were particularly very interesting to me. The logic of purity and pollution, the on-ground consequences of being lower caste, and acceptance of their discriminated faith through religion, and the assumption of privilege to rule and be served as birth-right by the upper castes, are some of the themes that are explored in the novel and connects with me as a sociologist.

House Boy, by Lorenzo DeStefano, is a fiction based on true events that will leave you feeling a pit in your stomach for days. A strangely real story of a young Dalit boy, who undergoes exploitation that is beyond endurance and comprehension. This novel is a tale that will question your thought process in a novel and uncomfortable way to make you aware of the subtle and brutal socio-political and racial prejudices within and surrounding you.

Unlock the eye-opening world of “House Boy” by Lorenzo DeStefano ( Dive into a gripping narrative that confronts the darkest aspects of our society. Order your copy now on Amazon and be prepared to challenge your perspective on caste-based discrimination, human trafficking, and the enduring fight for justice. Don’t miss this opportunity to delve into a thought-provoking and impactful read. Get your copy today!

Read: An Interview with Lorenzo DeStefano

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Devanshi is a compassionate individual with insatiable curiosity. She sees the world as an intricate piece of poetry. Besides being an avid reader with an eye always searching for new genres to pick up, she is also a public speaker and is always up for a new adventure. Her interest in sociological observation of daily life and ordinary things and academic pursuit of sociology as a discipline has expanded her areas of interests to realms of religion, gender, stratification, technology and beauty standards. After a long day, she usually finds solace in listening to music.