Just started reading The Simoquin Prophecies, the first book of the GameWorld trilogy by Samit Basu. The dude is just 28 now, and according to Wikipedia was only 22 when The Simoquin Prophecies was released!
The first thing that struck me about this book is its tonal similarity to Terry Pratchett’s DiscWorld series. I got the feeling Basu set out to write an Indian version of the Fantasy-spoof.
So far, Basu seems to be doing a good job. The humour is good, the allusions are recognizable and cute, and the writing is natural. The storytelling: I’m not hooked yet, and I definitely don’t understand some of the superlative praise heaped on the book, but maybe I will in a few pages.
I’ll update once I read a little more.
I’m really enjoying Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies. Ghosh is one of those writers who seems to write some very good books and some very pedestrian ones. Like I said before, his prose is prosaic, so to speak, and lacks the kind of flair achieved by Salman Rushdie and attempted by Arundhati Roy. It’s very correct, but I found it a bit too bland in The Glass Palace.
Sea of Poppies is a book that Just Works. You don’t notice the blandness of the prose because you are dazzled by the profusion of archaic and obscure yet deliciously recognizable words that Ghosh keeps weaving into the conversations and sentences in this book. This book is worth reading for the language alone.
One of the greatest things about Ghosh, and I noted this in my review of his book, The Hungry Tide, is his ability to let a story tell itself. He doesn’t try to force his opinions down the reader’s throat, something that some other authors do, sometimes quite directly through infodumps and at other times obtusely through conversations or events in their books. Ghosh tells the story with an even keel, and you can make your own judgements. This is true of Sea of Poppies.
Another thing I really appreciate about this book is it’s not targeted at Euramericans. A great many Indian authors, presumably worried about their bottom lines, write exactly what the fashionable parts of the West want to hear: exaggerated stories of caste conflict, language that’s carefully non-heathen and uses Western idioms instead of Indian ones. Ghosh eschews all that. Nothing against Euramerican-style literature, but it’s nice to see a more Indian flavour in a book. Although you might guess at the meanings of half the archaic words in the book without a knowledge of Hindi, those who do know Hindi can understand it better. This is a real Indian book.
And unlike some other authors, Ghosh doesn’t sugarcoat the problems the British created. In Sea of Poppies, Ghosh brings out the terrible privations that British Rule forced upon India. There are Brits who still persist in the belief that British Rule wasn’t a disaster for India, and reading this book would quickly disabuse them of such notions.
I’m halfway through the book. Let’s hope the rest of the book retains these qualities.
Success stories include the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which, while it’s not as good as the original, still made the story accessible in a good way to many people. Two of the failures which bother me — because I loved the originals — are Tarzan and Flash Gordon.
Disney’s Tarzan is the worst type of destruction, because it fundametally changed the nature of the character. Tarzan was not a wimpy nice-guy. Tarzan was essentially a wild animal with intelligence and a sense of honour. And Tarzan did not skateboard on tree branches.
The other massacre is with Sci-Fi Channel’s current series, Flash Gordon, based on the comic strip. The character of Flash Gordon himself is intact, but Zarkov’s character is completely destroyed. The original Zarkov was a scientist, true, but he was very far from the sniveling coward in the TV series. He was, if anything, more decisive than Flash, a daring fighter. It is sad to see what the character has been reduced to. Perhaps there’s something in someone’s psyche that needs a geeks vs. jocks dichotomy in order to make sense of the world? Other than this, Ming’s original character is much more fearsome than the tame Ming in the TV series. The planet Mongo is very poorly realized, although this may be a result of scarce production resources rather than lack of talent.
This complex and interesting novel talks at several levels. At the personal level, it tells a story of individuals caught in a rollicking jungle adventure; trapped by their own principles; or surmounting the insurmountable to bring succour to a poor community; and the intertwined lives of a small group of humans brought together by history. At the community level, it captures the fragile frontier lifestyle of a community on an island and tells the story of historical atrocities wreaked on another large frontier settlement settlement by an uncaring government. And at a broad level, it attempts to render nothing less than the very soul of the Sunderbans.
The story follows Kanai, a Bengali businessman settled in Delhi, and Piya, an American cetologist of Bengali descent. Kanai and Piya arrive in the Sunderbans for different reasons, but are soon caught up in a web of interpersonal relations spanning three decades. Both discover things about the Sunderbans they did not imagine.
The reactions of the characters at specific times are a little hard to believe. But the tapestry that Ghosh weaves more than makes up for this slight flaw; the reader is given a glimpse into what the Sunderbans are like, what makes them and the people who choose to live there tick, their history and their fauna. The mood of the novel is alternately immediate and pensive, now dealing with the immediacy of danger, now dealing with the larger questions that plague the region (and humanity in general).
Significantly, Ghosh seems to see the characters and places in his story as they are, and not as a vehicle to propagate a particular ideology or to paint himself, the author, in a particular light. This is a refreshing contrast from authors who write “fashionably” or select their topics for their ability to shock or impress (often Western) audiences. It results in an interesting balance of conflicting viewpoints, each of them portrayed but not judged. All in all, a great read.