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Posts Tagged ‘India’

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This is an epistolary novel, told by the main character Balram (who calls himself the White Tiger) to the prime minister of China, who is coming to India for a visit. Balram was born in an extremely poor part of India and was destined to live a life of labour or servitude, but as we find out at the beginning of the story he is a successful business. We also find out right at the beginning that he also murdered his killed his former master Ashok. The book tells Balram’s story and explains why he did what he did.

I am still not entirely sure how I feel about this book. I definitely enjoyed it, in that it was written well and I liked it’s very descriptive chronicle of life in India. (Note: this book does not romanticise India in ANY way, shape or form). It was often witty, and the writing flowed well. I found it an undemanding read that kept me interested – but for all that, I never felt fully engaged with the characters and always felt a slight detachment from Balram.

Nonetheless if this is a genre you like, I would recommend this book and if it is different kind of novel to what you would normally choose, you might like this change of scene.

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Set (mainly) in Calcutta in 1971, this book tells of a time immediately before the Bangladesh Liberation War between India and Pakistan. A number of Western travellers have found themselves at the Lux Hotel, which in reality is a shabby fleapit. Among those who are in Calcutta at this historic time are Anand, the young man who runs the hotel, such as it is; Larry and Gordon, two would-be hippies who spend most of their time smoking dope and in Gordon’s case searching for the elusive meaning of life; Britt, an American photographer; Hugh, a philandering English journalist; and Freddie, an enigmatic young eccentric.

Despite the war, life is pretty laid back for most of these characters, with shared histories and complicated entanglements taking up most of their time – that is until two murders shake up their world. It will take more than 30 years for the truth behind the murders to come to light – and in the meantime, life marches on…

This book had been languishing on my shelf for about eight years, and I eventually picked it up more out of curiosity than anything. It turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. It depicts fictional characters against a factual backdrop, and while some of the characters might be slightly stereotyped, they are all distinct and interesting (if not all likeable – frankly Hugh was pretty detestable). The story was both interesting and amusing, and I was kept guessing  until the very end. I particularly liked how, through a series of letters and news reports, the time frame was brought up to 2003.

The India/Pakistan war was clearly well researched, but while it was almost a character in its own right, it did not dominate the storyline and did not detract from the interaction between the characters.

Overall, this was a thoroughly enjoyable story and I would thoroughly recommend it.

 

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I’m not really sure how to write this review…this is an absolutely wonderful book, and I really want to try and do it justice.

Set in Mumbai in the 1970s when India has been declared in a State of Emergency by the Prime Minister Indira Ghandi, it tells the story of four people who are brought together, and the effect that the relationships between them have on their lives.  Dina Dalal is a widow, fiercely independent and determined to support herself, rather than rely on her brother’s financial help, or get remarried.

Ishvar and Omprakash (Om) are tailors from a low caste, who seek work in Mumbai and find themselves working for Dina.

Maneck is a young man, brought up in a loving family in the mountains, who comes to the city to attend college and needs a room to rent.

All of them are from very different backgrounds, but are thrown together as they try to make lives for themselves during what is a very difficult period in India.

The first half of the book centres on the histories of the characters and tells how they came to find themselves in their respective situations.  The second half concentrates more on the bond between the four of them, and the trials that they face as individuals and as a group.

There is also much in the book about life in India at the time, and how difficult it was for so many citizens.

I adored this book.  Each character was so beautifully drawn that I felt that I really knew them, and I certainly came to care very much about them.  The descriptions of some of the horrors that took place were gut wrenching and very distressing to read about – all the more so, because I was aware that such things really did happen.  It certainly made me realise how lucky I am to have the freedoms and privileges that most of the time we all take for granted.  This is a tale of a population which has been failed by it’s government – and when the rulers of a land can’t abide by their own rules, how can anyone else be expected to?  I could only read with trepidation as some of the characters seemed to be drawn along a road that could only lead to heartache.

There are a number of other characters who are relatively minor, but all of whom were fleshed out and were entirely believable.

The writing was beautiful – so eloquent, but also very accessible.  The location and time were really brought to life.

At no point did I get bored – I just wanted to read on and learn more about the lives of these fascinating people, and the ending when it came, took my breath away.

This is a wonderfully written, warm and absorbing read – very highly recommended indeed.  (Don’t be put off by the length – you may well wish it was even longer!)

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