I was approached on Goodreads to review this book and later provided with a copy for an unbiased review. So Thank you to the Author for the kind opportunity and I hope I can give you my unbiased opinion.
Imagine your hometown with a plethora of colours, having the most diverse people, a multitude of languages, religions, mindsets and gods. One word immediately pops up in our mind – “INDIA”. Now imagine the entire world like this – This is exactly what this novel delivers, topped with emotions and romance.
Colourful, creative, fast-paced and informative are the words best describing this imaginative world where everything is meticulously planned with a masala mindset.
Steve Wilson and Margaret Wilson, are an aging British couple with traditional British values, considered by most as backward in a modern British society. Their first son Greg is wayward and disorganized, much to Steve’s dismay. Greg wants to be a Kusthi champion and one day represent his country on the world stage.
Daphne, the daughter of the household is 27, and is at the right age for marriage, and Margaret is searching for a suitable bride-groom for her – educated, dark skinned teetotaler, settled in Bharat perhaps?
Harry is the last son, and is the brightest of the household. Still in college, he aims at pursuing higher studies in Bharat, and applies for the Tamil Language tests so he could take up the course of his liking in the south of India. He is in a relationship with a Muslim girl.
Does this alternate reality have an ordinary life planned for these five people or is it going to turn it into an unexpected roller coaster ride?
Set in an imaginary British village dubbed Mayfield, this book explores the lives of an ideal middle class British family, through all their happiness and heartbreaks. The Britain in this alternate world suffers from poverty, filth, corruption, stench and dishonesty, whereas India is technologically advanced and everything around the world, ranging from machines, beliefs, food, attire and architecture have an Indian flavor to it.
How INDIAN has the world become? Do the British women of the “Yorkshire Biryani” wear the Bindi and decorate their hair with jasmine flowers? Do the men wear turbans and the cross- thread across their chests? Do they worship a plethora of Gods? What is the official language of the world? How has the arts and architecture developed? Has Islam taken a softer route because of the world Hindu domination? What food do the people eat? Do they drink as much tea?
Meanwhile How developed is India? How colourful has it become? Is there a version of the internet? If so, what language does the internet use? Is there a Bollywood? Is there still a split between the north and the south? What does technology look like if all of them had an Indian touch to it. What is the main stream of medicine? What are the most famous sports?
What I Liked :
As a debut novel there’s a lot going for the book that can be taken as a positive for the author and chief amongst them is the setting of the plot . The whole idea of India colonizing British empire for a century or two instead of what happened in reality with the British empire ruling India for nearly two centuries.
The result of the this setting gives rise to a fascinating world building from the author and he doesn’t shy away from it explaining in detail the various system and working in his world and even going one step further and spending around 20 pages after the end of his story to explain in detail about the various mechanisms of his world and to me those 20 pages felt very entertaining , more entertaining than the whole book .
Initial preconception from me was that the book will focus on how good India becomes when the British colonization doesn’t take place and all those now myth scriptures and research are not destroyed that India had during and prior to the Mughals and British rule . But instead with a charming wit the author instead portrayed the struggles of the now independent Brits to recover from the their two century old suppression by the Indian . In an amusing way the book shows that many Britishers are as bitter at the Indian empire as in reality many Indians are still pissed with the actual British rule and at the same time the advancement & developed state of the previous rulers also inspires a sense of awe from the Britishers in the book and Indians in reality.
Instead of making it seem like Indians were a very generous rulers the author makes a case of both good and bad of the fictitious rule just as the real life British empire rule can generate similar comparisons of good and bad.
There was a part where one of the key characters of the book Harry has a mental breakdown and following which he sets out on a long journey across India to find spirituality and learning of the various festivals and cultures of the country . For Most part the descriptions of this journey remain intact to the reality and describes the plethora of cultures , colours , rituals of the Indian civilization and it was very well written .The Aghory culture most of all was expained in a very interesting way with the author also reasoning the thought process of the follower of such culture, which was informative for even a Indian like me who knows very little of this culture .
What I Didn’t like :
While the setting may have been amusing and fascinating the plot felt really weak . The plot was lacking a anchoring point as there wasn’t a particular plot to focus on and it seemed that there was simply too much happening and before one thing was put to bed , another thing started and the first thing was forgotten only to later reappear .
This lack of a plot synchronization led to a very distorted reading material leaving reader confused at times and failing to generate any particular excitement for the happenings of the book .Much of the book went without a proper timeline either and created a disturbing mess which started with a particular time and then went to very nearby past events and then followed with events of future and then coming back to the present time again*. This could obviously be attributed to this being the debut work of the author but nonetheless it appeared to me as a big hindrance during the course of the book
*you think what i wrote here is confusing try going through the book with all events narrated in same manner
The fascinating world building in fact felt unnecessary for most of the book with most of the events that transpired barely being affected by this new world and had the book been set in the real world one could have written the same plot with no difference . Of the top of my head the chapter regarding the treatment of the main protagonists father was the only point in the plot when the new Indian dominated world really seemed to matter to the plot
Much of the book was filled with a huge amount of detail and description which instead of making it a good read made it a dull one as these descriptions often times felt unnecessary and seemed to make the story drag on and trying to reach the finale in a very round-about manner and hence causing many stagnant moments in the story.
The character themselves appeared to be very weak. With Greg the main character changing his views and ambition with each passing chapter , Steve his father going from grumpy to caring in the most abrupt way possible, the Sister Daphne only appearing for the purpose of sobbing and Harry himself making absurd choices that seemed to differ from his character , Other characters were barely given enough time to develop into anything even a side character.
In fact the initial perception created in the starting pages (Greg being a goon and disappointment, Harry being over pampered spoilt brat etc.) were thrown out in the starting chapters itself and the characters were actually written to the opposite of what their initial characterization detailed.
At one time Harry goes missing for months and it appeared that no body actually cared , Greg’s response was even amusing as his thoughts were “no point looking for him , he’ll return one day” . There were other such scenarios as well that made the emotional responses from the characters seemed weird to the say the least. The Finale also seemed to appear out of nowhere and the results in the final act also felt abrupt, absurd and unrelatable
A Extra con for me personally was the depiction of treatment for Brain stem lesion and Alzheimer by the author . While it was amazing to read about advancement of Ayurveda , it’s impossible to cure people of Alzheimer’s by putting new memories since the disease causes degenerative proteins being deposited and ergo the new memories will follow the same pattern that the old one did . Similarly while cleaning blood can treat plenty of cerebrovascular accidents Brain stem disorders and Intracranial bleeds are impossible to do so . It’s a very minute detail that not many will catch and I did because of belonging to the field of medicine but it disheartens me to see a lack of research for the plot
Initial reviews of the book suggested that it would be a hilarious journey and yet at no point was i able to generate a small grin and I have said this before , a good book for me remains one that draws emotional response from me and sadly the work from Vikram Venkataraghvan despite showing plenty of promise fail to entertain me as a reader