Book review: The Forty Rules of Love: – “There…are…rules?”


3/5 Stars,

“Love is the water of life. And a lover is a soul of fire! The universe turns differently when fire loves water.” ~Elif Shafak

You could quote and quote, endlessly, from this book. I have never highlighted text in a book this much before (…the mania to collect all the 40 rules…and the musings of Sufi philosophy….Irresistible). For example : –

“Is there a way to grasp what love means without becoming a lover first? Love cannot be explained. It can only be experienced. Love cannot be explained, yet it expalins all.” ~Elif Shafak


“It is easy to enjoy the good and dislike the bad. Anybody can do that. The real challenge is to love the good and the bad together, not because you need to take the rough with the smooth but because you need to go beyond such descriptions and accept love in its entirety.” ~Elif Shafak

Now, I generally don’t read romance novels, generally!, but you throw in a ‘Historical fiction’ with insights in ‘Sufism‘ by telling the tale of ‘Rumi’ & ‘Shams of Tabriz’ in 1230’s Konya, and you have my full attention.

Blurb from Goodreads:- Elif Shafak unfolds two tantalizing parallel narratives—one contemporary and the other set in the thirteenth century, when Rumi encountered his spiritual mentor, the whirling dervish known as Shams of Tabriz—that together incarnate the poet’s timeless message of love.

Ella Rubenstein is forty years old and unhappily married when she takes a job as a reader for a literary agent. Her first assignment is to read and report on Sweet Blasphemy, a novel written by a man named Aziz Zahara. Ella is mesmerized by his tale of Shams’s search for Rumi and the dervish’s role in transforming the successful but unhappy cleric into a committed mystic, passionate poet, and advocate of love. She is also taken with Shams’s lessons, or rules, that offer insight into an ancient philosophy based on the unity of all people and religions, and the presence of love in each and every one of us. As she reads on, she realizes that Rumi’s story mir­rors her own and that Zahara—like Shams—has come to set her free.”

‘Sufi’, the word itself has taken an almost synonym status as ‘Poet’, ‘Lover’, ‘Singer’ ‘Enlightened soul’, ‘Peaceful’, ‘Romantic’, ‘Devotional’ ,in almost everything, ‘such a Sufi voice’, ‘such a Sufi weather’, ‘Such a Sufi soul’ so a book delving into it is interesting in the extreme. We Indians love music, and I personally love Sufi music a lot, it has such soul in it, incomparable. So, the best thing about this book among it’s two timelines of parallel stories, one in Konya 1230, the other in Northampton 2008 was undeniably the former, the story of ‘Shams of Tabriz’ and ‘Rumi’, in my opinion the sub text to the title should have been ‘A Novel of Shams‘ rather than ‘A Novel of Rumi‘ but Rumi already did that himself, and this IS kind of an ode to his work, so I will let it go.

The book is well written, with plenty of text to inspire people by (I didn’t agree with all the rules, some just seem too vague or general, But, they are pretty….awesome), but the story of ‘Ella’ was so uninspiring and bland, sometimes outright irritating in comparison, that I had a difficult time drawing the parallels that were intended, if the whole story stayed in the 13th century I would have been a happy man, but you take the good and the bad …and ..all …that, so sure.

The story from Shams perspective and Rumi’s and the other people around them , gives the readers multiple windows to examine the world and views from, this I loved. The tale of Rumi’s transformation and Shams mission created many interesting tit-bits. Like the episode with the ‘Sema’ dance. All in all a good read.

A Dervish performing the ‘Sema’ dance

This book had a beautiful message, and for the most part a beautiful (if somewhat unsatisfactory) way to tell it. So, I recommend it to everybody interested in Love, or in Rumi, or in Sufism or History or Romance. So, read this and breathe in the wisdom of the Sufis, feel one with the cosmos and do the Sema with the whirling dervishes (I tried…in between….Its strangely liberating) and remember rule no. 40 says: –

“A life without love is of no account. Don’t ask yourself what kind of love you should seek, spiritual or material, divine or mundane, Eastern or Western…..Divisions only lead to more divisions. Love has no labels, no definitions. It is what it is, pure and simple” ~Elif shafak

Book Review: Flood of Fire : – “When the Dragon got burned and the Lion escaped unsinged”

Flood of Fire

4/5 Stars

‘A few big bangs,’ observed the officer sagely, ‘can save a great many lives.’ ~Amitav Ghosh, Flood of Fire

Ahhh…..So, this ‘fabulous’ Idea had occurred to the British long before the Americans. Can’t say I am surprised really. The British at that time(most of the 17th, 18th and 19th century…and possibly before that too) were the flag bearers of despotism and well…I am an Indian, if anyone knows how being at the receiving end of that feels like, it would be us.

With Flood of fire, Amitav Ghosh concludes the Ibis Trilogy, and this series is without a doubt one of the finest historical fiction I have read till date. Mr. Ghosh’s impeccable attention to detail, his extensive research and his no nonsense yet creative way to portray history has made this series a must read for any respectable history buff. As with anything linked with history, this series too has a lot of pages, a LOT. With each book in the trilogy he adds 650+ pages to the tale. And yet, even with the slow pace the story doesn’t let you go, yes, you do take rest in btw (I did, had to absorb before moving on) but the characters were so interesting, the whole era itself was so very captivating that you puff away at the tale as you do a Cuban cigar, taste it, enjoy it up-to a point, slowly, then extinguish it, at some other time relight it and carry on where you left it from, and of course its just as good every time.

With The Sea of Poppies we began the tale from the heartland of Bihar, with the farmers toiling away under the British raj, then we progressed on to the traders of the final product (“opium”) in River of Smoke where we follow the sticky balls of opium from the well powdered hands of elite company men and ‘Free Market’ traders(smugglers, traffickers), to its ultimate destination .i.e the shivering hands of a Chinese addict in some dark den in Canton. And with the Flood of fire, we come to the point where every story line in the trilogy converges to give you the first opium wars, where a country which fought to save its citizen from the dark embrace of destruction was thoroughly humiliated and beaten by the ‘Respectable’ and ‘Honorable’ men of an empire which claimed to bring civilization and freedom to its shores, How? by giving them uncooked opium at ridiculously high prices, imposing a *cough*.. loot.. *cough* of more than 12 million Spanish dollars(at that time .i.e.1840’s) and wrested away two islands for the sole purpose of forcing the drug down the throat of an already choking country.

Ahh…I got carried away….didn’t I……..ahm ahm I love the current British, trust me, (John, Lucia, even Ravi, if you are reading this, I love you guys OK). So, Now, onto the book, yes.

The four main characters this book follows are ‘Kesri’, our village woman ‘Deeti’s brother and a proud soldier in the East India Company’s formidable army; ‘Shireen’ ,’Behram’s (our trader from book two) wife, Zachary (Our mulatto upstart), and ‘Neil’ (a convicted king / ‘Munshi’ / Translator / the guy who experiences things from the Chinese side). Their story is woven with the fate of the Chinese and Indian lands so skillfully that you get to know the conflict from every angle. Specially Kesri’s experience, fighting for a foreign power against another foreign power for………….nothing, nothing of consequence of his own is interesting in the extreme. Some of his thoughts for his superiors are, so very relatable, like…

“ skewer this maadarchod seemed far more urgent than fighting some unknown Chinese soldier.” ~Kesri

Ahh.. the beauty of foul language in one’s own mother tongue, but I digress. So, as I have mentioned in the first two reviews too, Character development and strength of its story lines are two of the best aspects of this series. Zachary’s zig zag travels through moral considerations and temptations, good and bad, were again a testament to Mr.Ghosh’s skill at creating an interesting character which showcases that how THAT world molded the unsuspecting and gullible in its own twisted image.

All in all, Bravo!, A standing Ovation!, tilted hats and ‘Bangra’ dance all the way, so, why the 4 stars you ask. Why not 5? Fair question, so here’s the deal, when I had to check to see how much a book is left, to actually count down the pages till I finish it, means I wavered, means I could come out of the book without meaning to, that I noticed the door bell being rung, noticed that I was hungry, noticed that maybe I should sleep because I had to go to the office. Now, you might say that that’s no excuse, but it is, to me it is, so deducted one for just that, for making me read those extra pages that were not so interesting, that made me take a break. Unfair? well no I don’t think so.

But I wholeheartedly recommend this to every history lover, or the ones who enjoy a long read, buckle up guys, this is your door to the 19th century Asia, where all the ‘Fun’ stuff was happening which led to the current shit we are in. Take a gander from the deck of the IBIS.

Book Review: Midnight’s Children: – “A mind-boggling beauty of Literature “

Midnight's Childern

5/5 Stars

“To understand just one life, you have to swallow the world” ~Salman Rushdie

There’s something to be said about digressions, about the chaos of thoughts one after the other, mingling and colliding like waves of an uneasy ocean. Thoughts disjointed and devoid of sense in their individuality, yet in the end meaningful to each other, like various little pieces of a huge jigsaw puzzle where two pieces could be as different as structurally possible and yet in the end complete each other and ultimately give that final reward ‘Meaning’, ‘Sense’ and of-course the feeling of accomplishment as we gaze at the full picture. The phrase “Learn how to see, Realize that everything connects to everything else” by Da Vinci comes to mind.

The narration of Saleem Sinai in this book gives truth to these words. Before delving into the story and its symbolism then, lets take a look at its structure, there are books written in First person style or a Third person style,  this uses both of them, sometimes Saleem refers directly to himself, sometimes still referring to himself he takes a third person approach, this amalgamation of narration gives this book a unique advantage, it can take philosophical detours and yet stay true to the story, it skews the events keeping the protagonist (in his delusion, truth , fallacy, we never really truly care) at the center of everything . Our hero (for the lack of a better word) is truly fickle in his tale and he admits it freely. This delving into the mind, sifting through thoughts, one moment at the start of something, the next revealing the end prematurely, connecting invisible dots, impossible theories. And you never really question any of it. Continuously in the tale he will give away the end, then delve back through much of his own musings of fantastic philosophies and start the story from the beginning, summarizing for our benefit all that transpired and how it connects (or seems to connect for him). Books that can successfully pull this off are hard to find (maybe “I, Lucifer” by glen Duncan or “The slow regard of Silent things” by Patrick Rothfuss), harder to read as well, not for everybody, the ramblings of a madman truly appeal to the mad, or do they? just to the mad?  The enormous success of this book decorated with “Man Booker Prize (1981), The Booker of Bookers Prize (1993), The Best of the Booker (2008) would suggest otherwise.

Magical Realism or Fabulism call it what you will, was a concept with which I had a passing acquaintance, courtesy of Neil Gaiman & his books “American Gods” and “Anansi Boys“, but to experience it so profoundly was a first, perhaps because I was familiar with the setting (India, Independence and its struggles) or perhaps Salman Rushdie is just a master of this world and his book an absolute masterpiece of this genre. And so we delve into the story which mixes realty and magic and cares not for the truth because “What’s Real and What’s true aren’t necessarily the same“. So,on 15th Aug 1947, when Nehru declared to the world “….At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom…”, along with India awoke 1001 new born children, as special and full of possibilities as the newborn country itself. Midnight’s Children with fabulous potential and special powers of which Saleem perhaps was the greatest. But yet the story doesn’t start there, no sir, it takes 32 years and 170 pages to reach there, the story starts in 1915 Kashmir among rubies, diamonds and a spectacular Nose. With Saleem’s grandfather. To truly understand a person you have to swallow the world indeed. Or as he aptly summarized in the book.

“Who What am I? My answer: I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I’ve gone which would not have happened if I had not come.”

You are getting the allure, aren’t you. And so, you hear him out from Kashmir to Bombay to Karachi to Dhaka to Delhi, you hear him out and all the lives that he touched or that touched him. The greatest of which was the nation itself, a life which rivaled history in its incredulity. The symbolism in the story might not be apparent to some, to me it was, but I can totally understand the confusion. The story travels with India on its journey to independence to partition to its flirtations with socialism communism to corruption to its wars of 1947  ’65 ’71 to its period of emergency 1975-77. Narrated by the person who shoulders the responsibility for everything and when I say everything I do mean everything.

The prose style Rushdie has used is marvelous, I have not read many post modern books but, this multitude of awesomeness has convinced me to pay more attention. The literary significance of this work would be apparent to almost everybody who read it. Frustrating is a word I am trying to avoid because generally frustrating books don’t keep me up at nights, when only the inability of my eyes to not stop burning force me against my wishes to give it a rest. So frustrating ,No, complex, Yes, maddening at times, Definitely, Goddamn this book is off the chain, a capital YES. And so this book will have a rare honor in my library, having a 5 star rating and a ‘mind-boggling’ tag. In one of the many reviews I read “This book is Rushdie’s love letter to India” and I concur, that is a most apt analogy, as this book not only celebrates the ‘crowd’ and multitude of concepts that form my country but also embraces the dark side of it, and shows that hope though not always but many a time trumps hate and when it does the result is a chaotic beauty of infinite proportions. I urge everyone to pick this one up, fully realizing that perhaps not everyone will be able to. So, to everyone who does the rewards would be fantabulous but beware ‘Here there be Dragons’.



Book Review: Ponniyin Selvan Book 2: Whirlwinds : – “The Plot thickens”

Pnniyin selvan Whirlwinds

4/5 Stars Goodreads Rating System

After completing his first commission, our rowdy hero ‘Vandhiyathevan’  departs on another, given to him by the beloved Chozha princess ‘Kundavai’, over whom he is obviously smitten. This task will take him to the namesake of this series, to ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ Arulmozhivarman, the younger Chozha prince himself. And the plot decidedly thickens.

The second book in the series lives up to its expectation and more. After getting comfortable with the writing style in the first book, you thoroughly enjoy the characters and the story line in this one. The web of conspiracies been woven by oh so many parties in this story is intriguing in the extreme, and the characters, specially the female one’s are most interesting, be it ‘Kundhavai Piratti’, princess of the Chozha empire, the beautiful but poisonous ‘Nandhini Devi’, the boat-woman ‘Poonguzhali’ or the deaf-mute ‘Mandakini’. They fill the colors in this story, with the pink of their love, the green of their jealousy, the white of their kindness, and the red of their vengeance. And of-course our headstrong hero Vandhiyathevan with his penchant for finding trouble wherever he goes, no dull moment in the whole story indeed.

We get to visit “Lanka” in the 10th century, as war wages on between the Chozha and Sinhala kings, the emerald island is experienced in uncharacteristic peace given the circumstances, courtesy of the benevolence of Ponniyin Selvan of-course. It’s common knowledge that ‘Kalki‘ visited Sri Lanka three times to get the story right, I am happy to report that his visits were not in vain. The plot is furthered by finally getting introduced to the central character of the series. The romance in the writing and the deftness of the plot makes this a specially pleasurable read.

I will be waiting for ‘Pavithra Srinivasan’s’ next installment of translation, of this great historical fiction, with all the eagerness and restlessness of a whirlwind.

Ponniyin Selvan Book 1: Fresh Floods: – “A Southern Epic for a Northerner’s craving”

After 4 years in South India, THE GUILT of not knowing enough about its History, Culture and of barely having any basic knowledge of it’s languages, almost overwhelms you. And you finally resolve that this cannot continue. How is it that you know more about the English Kings than the Travancore ones.  How is it that you have unlimited admiration for the Vikings but know next to nothing about the Chola(Chozha) Empire, which was the greatest naval power in South Asia at its peak.

How is it, pray tell, that you consider yourself in love with history and stories, when you barely have any knowledge about one of the longest ruling dynasties of India,  or of the  three crowned kings of Tamilkam. How is it my dear dear man, that you have never tried reading about Ponniyin Selvan(~Beloved Son of the river Ponni) Raja Raja Chola I, who united almost all of South India under his Tiger flag. And under whose son, The empire stretched as far as Indonesia.

Chola 1030
Chola Empire (1030 CE) (Source : Wikipedia)

No, this slight has to be corrected, and as you have an insatiable thirst for fiction, what better way to impart on this discovery of the southern lands and kings than by following one of the most celebrated  Tamil authors Kalki Krishnamurthy , and his magnum opus Ponniyin Selvan, translated (blessedly!) by Pavithra Srinivasan (yes, a translated version, yes I know it won’t be the same thing, but give me a break huh!, I am trying here.)

Ponniyn Selvan B1

3.5/5 Stars GoodReads Rating System

Its the late 10th century, our hero ‘Vandiyathevan’, a dashing warrior of the prestigious Vaanar clan has been given an important mission by his leader and dear friend the crown prince of the great Chola empire, Aditya Karikalan. And so, our hero departs from Kanchi towards the capital Thanjavur on his adventurous journey through the Chola empire.

The story Kalki weaves is marvelous and as I have just started (one of five), I eagerly look forward to the others. An epic is not an epic unless it combines almost all the possible genres of fiction in one fine intricate tale. And that, this marvel written in the 1950s does splendidly, it has mystery, of conspiracies being hatched against the empire and its current rulers, the threat of invasion by enemy forces, romance with woman equated to celestial nymphs, thrill of a fast paced chase, and the glory of an adventurous & exploratory  journey across the proud and plentiful Chola Empire, with cities bustling with people and produce, temples and palaces to shame even the heavens, and greenery and rivers at their brimming best. The Romance in Kalki’s writing is palpable. The story undeniably invokes a sense of pride, “This was Glorious, This time, This age, These places, These achievements, This was Us, Our Ancestors Did This” the book almost seems to say. Me, being from Northern India, still had an urge to join in the “Vaazhga vaazgha!” chants of the people wishing “Long lives” to the Chozha emperor, the Chozha empire and the Tiger flag. Quite a rosy picture indeed, the comparison he draws between the Chozha princesses and celestial nymphs like Urvashi, Menaka, Rambha etc etc brought a smile to my face, ‘with skin as smooth as marble, as fragrant as sandalwood and lips as soft as lotus petals’, I mean, Goddamn this man had flair.

The story had many dynamics, and needless to say many interesting characters. The one disadvantage (among many) I had was of, not knowing the Tamil tongue, and thus I missed out on the various Tamil songs and prayers recanted in this story. Of the ones, that were duly translated, I understood but I missed out on the word play that must have been in their chaste Tamil version. And the names, oh Gods, the names, such complicated names (or so it seemed to me, again, not a Tamil speaker) like “Periya Pazhuvettarayar” or “Azhwarkardiyan Nambi”, again and again I went to my Tamil speaking friends, seeking clarifications and correct pronunciations (unsuccessfully I am sad to say, oh well). Another aspect that Intrigued me was the bit about religious tension, this was 10th Century, Allah and Jesus had yet to enter South Indian politics, Hindu deities ruled supreme in people’s mind, but that is no reason for them not to fight among st themselves, oh no sir, so they fought over who is more strong and supreme “Lord Shiva” or “Lord Vishnu”. The arguments between Shaivites and Vaishnavites, made me roll my eyes more than once.

And now to Pavithra Srinivasan, She I hope, had done as much justice to Kalki’s writing as she could. This I have to believe, as the words I have read, I assume, are as close to his as they can be in English. The book is well written and only Tamil speakers might be able to find possible trouble, I as a neutral party found nothing to complain about.

This is a worthwhile series to follow, specially if you are an Indian or South Asian, these are stories that are lost to other stories, they are there but ignored, looked over. The only mention that I could remember about Cholas, Cheras, Pallavas and Pandayas were about their architectural marvels, the legacies that they left in stone which the world couldn’t ignore were the only ones that found mention. Why, even that legacy is eroding, save a few temples which are maintained and looked after. So, lets go back to their stories I say, lets go back to the court intrigue of the south. This historical fiction written in 1950’s should be picked by  every reader across the length and breadth of this country, because along with imparting the pleasure of a well written historical fiction, it serves a greater purpose, it keeps these stories alive, it keeps the wonder of the south for all to experience.






River of Smoke : -“…of Greed,of Corruption,of Broken will and of Tales that would last Centuries”

River of Smoke

3.5/5 Stars Goodreads Rating System

“The flowers of Canton are immortal and will bloom forever”  ~Amitav Ghosh

And so i hope they shall, as long as they are not Opium poppies of course. The second installment in the Ibis Trilogy, had a lot to live up to. Understandably so, as Sea of Poppies had set the bar impossibly high. But to me at least, it delivered almost everything that was expected of it. The Opium Wars both 1 and 2, have had a very profound effect on the world, so much so that its ripples could still be felt even now, not only for China but also for India and for most of south east Asia. They can be felt in the Chinese anti west stance, or in India’s struggle to boost up its economy. But this event so critical to history is often neglected, as to the questions of, why it happened? could it have possibly been avoided? Did diplomacy play no part? this story provides ample answers. Opium harmed both the producer and the consumer, only the seller, as it seems profited from its trade.

And its traders are the people that we follow in this story. In Sea of Poppies, we traveled across Bihar to Bengal, in India, the regions abused by the Honorable (Ahm! Ahm!) East India Company for Opium production (against the wishes of the farmers, against any basic human decency), until finally the Ibis traveled down the Ganga to the Bay of Bengal and into the Indian Ocean. Investors and producers of Opium were, primarily, the people we dealt with. In, River of Smoke we travel eastward still, though not on the Ibis, to the Nicobar islands, to Malacca, Singapore, Macau and finally Canton. And who better to travel these waters and ports with, than the traders and traffickers who made this route famous in the first place. And so we reacquaint ourselves with “Paulette” our french orphan on her journey from ‘Mauritius’ to ‘Hong Kong’ in search of a fabled flower, With “Neel” our doomed raja and his life as a freeman. In addition , to a host of new characters, like “Behram Modee”  father of our opium addict “Ah fatt” , “Robin Chinnery” an old artist acquaintance of ‘Paulette’. And see the world of Canton from their eyes, one a Parsi opium trader of renown from Bombay and the other a ‘bastard’ painter from Calcutta. Some of the old characters from the first book are passingly mentioned, or make brief appearances without ever taking the center stage. Their stories I suspect have been saved for book 3 which I think would focus on soldiers and the actual armed Opium conflict. This book however gives you the build up to it. To the events in ‘Fanqui Town’ and the 13 factories.

13 factories
Canton Harbor and the 13 Factories with their respective flags

This book too like the previous one, is, exceedingly well researched and written. Without taking too much liberty with history, a lot of historically accurate events and people play a central part in the story. The use of these authentic characters gives the story a life of its own. But unlike the previous one, this tale was a slow burner, you feel no rush to reach the end as quickly as possible. On the contrary, you live through the journey, basking in the author’s very detailed descriptions of the landscape of our various destinations, a glimpse into their societies, even the fl-aura and fauna these places had. More than once, I went online to read about a particular flower or shrub (like the Golden Camellia), or researched about a historical figure mentioned in the book (Lin Zexu obviously, but many others as well like George ChinneryCharles Elliot etc etc). The point is, the book used a LOT of information which seems quite obvious, it being a Historical fiction and whatnot, but it used it in such a way as to make you curious about them. The bulk of the tale takes place in Canton, the single entry point available to foreigners for trading with China. The city fascinated me, more so ‘Fanqui Town’ and the 13 Factories, these places, the focal point of the story, were amazingly detailed.

The plot as I mentioned, was not as exciting as the first book but the charm of the book lies in its rediscovery of forgotten worlds and lives. And the best part, the book doesn’t leave you hanging, you could gobble it up and rest with contentment before you feel hungry again. I was impressed by Mr. Ghosh’s style of making the abrupt ending of the first book seem a proper ending during the first few chapters of the second one. His style of jumping between timelines before engrossing in the story is intriguing. The book deserves all the praise and nominations it has been awarded.  I recommend this series to any and all history buffs, these were exciting times, these are intriguing stories and to experience them with the pleasure of fiction makes it infinitely more fun.

Book Review: Sea of Poppies : – “Darkly addictive as Opium itself.”


4/5 Stars GoodReads Rating System

Amitav Ghosh, to my shame was a name that I knew only as the receiver of the ‘Padma Shri’ the 4th highest civilian Honor in India. Despite the shower of awards and recognition bestowed upon his famous works, specially in my beloved genre of Historical Fiction, I had not read any of his books before this. THAT, I assure you is surely gonna change because I have never seen Justice done to history as intricately as in “Sea of Poppies”.

This saga, being the first of three, initially tests your patience, you have to give it time which is not the easiest thing to do in a book spanning close to 500 pages. It introduces you to a host of characters in 1838 India, when the British gluttony for the opium profits knew no bounds, and in Bihar and Bengal where once the farms were green with rice or gold with wheat, there now resided a Sea of poppies. And thus our band of misfits consist of a village woman victim to such harvest in every sense possible, a mulatto American freedman who by a chance of fate finds himself among Gentleman of the empire, A raja reduced to nothing, a french orphan with an Indian heart, a Young boatman with dreams of the sea, an eccentric ‘munshi’, a half Chinese half Parsi opium addict and others as diverse and interesting as the era itself. The character building in this novel is phenomenal, Mr. Ghosh takes his time with each and every single one, shaping it page by page, this sometimes feel a bit cumbersome as you restlessly wait for the journey to begin aboard the ship, as you know it will. But no, he makes you pay attention, to invest in the characters before they do anything of note. This book sets the board for the coming story and thus as I have said earlier demands a bit of patience. But the wait is ultimately rewarding. Mr.Ghosh’s attention to detail is commendable,  his research I believe would have been quite extensive and it shows in the book. The language used by many of the characters is a mix of Hindustani and English, With each character having their own style and way with words, from the Irish laced sailor slang of the first mate to the Bhojpuri of ‘Deeti’, the village woman, though being an Indian I had considerably less trouble following what was being said but to a foreign audience that style of writing might take some getting used to,  though the author has I believe tried to ease this issue by cleverly including “THE IBIS CHRESTOMATHY” at the end of the book , providing a glossary of words used in the tale, their meaning and origins. But even so, it could sometimes hamper the reading experience, but the thing to appreciate even in this, is the writer’s total dedication to the authenticity of the era , and the characters. This I believe adds an extra quirk to the story and takes nothing away.

The only issue that bothered me was the abrupt end of the book, after my initial “What the..” reaction, some restless moments were spent feverishly searching my kindle and laptop making sure that I have the next installment ready for consumption, much like an “afeemkhor” (opium addict) I imagine, confirming I have the means for the next fix. As I have read this in 2017 and all the three books are out, this again was not much trouble, but to a reader in 2008, the exasperation level would have been quite high. So, yes, that cliffhanger ending was a bit uncalled for, nothing was resolved, nothing was even close to closure. But it is what it is.

The book overall is splendidly written, the hypocrisy of the raj has been portrayed as is. No watering down, the narrative from a third man’s perspective as we experience through ‘Zachariah’, our mulatto freedman, adds substantial clarity and effect to the story. It is a great historical fiction in all aspects, checking every box essential for an epic tale and series. I will be moving on to the next one immediately, out of compulsion, curiosity or admiration I cannot say, maybe all three and why not, as William Styron aptly said  “A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading”. This book fits that description to a T.