Saturday, 15 September 2012

Kim's Review: God's Little Soldier

I've been a huge fan of Kiran Nagarkar, ever since I first met him in Bombay in 2006 and read Ravan and Eddie almost immediately after. My favourite book by him is most definitely Cuckold, which I bought and read as soon as we moved back to India.

The biggest problem with Nagarkar's books are the size and hence the subsequent weight which makes them difficult to carry around or read in bed. So I was waiting for God's Little Soldier to come out in paperback before I got around to reading it and it was a very long wait. I expect, I am going to have an equally long wait for the paperback version of The Extras (the sequel to Ravan and Eddie) too, unless I finally succumb and pick up an e-reader version.

What I really love about his books are that they tell stories from the protagonists point of view and even though you may not agree with the protagonist, you can empathise with him to quite an extent. There is also a gritty style of writing in Kiran's work that is reminiscent of pulp fiction at times, but for me it just makes his characters more real, more "human" so to speak.

When we met Nagarkar at JLF earlier this year, he wanted to know if I liked his latest book and I confessed that I was waiting for it to come out in paperback. Self-deprecating as always, he said "don't buy my books, they aren't worth reading. I just write for the sake of writing, call it an old mans indulgence" Anyone who has met Nagarkar would know that this is definitely not sarcasm, its just how he sees himself.

Yet he puts in so much time and effort into each one of his books and I think God's Little Soldier must have been the most difficult one to research so far. It spans countries, religions and dogmas and needed physical as much as literary research.

Kiran goes back to a familiar theme of his, as seen in Ravan and Eddie: "How do 2 boys brought up in somewhat similar circumstances react differently in similar situations?"

In Ravan and Eddie, the boys are brought up in the same chawl but in different religions. In God's Little Soldier, Zia and Amanat are sons of the same parents, but Amant being sickly from birth gets more care from his mother, while Zia is a favourite with his aunt Zubeida.

Their parents are liberal muslims, but Zubeidakhala is more traditional in her views and beliefs. How these childhood influences creep up into their behaviour later in life is interesting to watch as the story unfolds.

When Kiran wrote this book, he said it was because he wanted to show that not all "terrorists" come out of Madrasas. It is possible to have a top notch education and liberal upbringing but circumstances could still propel you into a hardline view.

The book is divided into 3 distinct parts. The first has Zia and Amanat growing up in Bombay. While they come from a fairly well to do family, they lose everything when their fathers partner (who is also their mothers brother) disappears with all the money and leaves their father with a couple of court cases hanging over his head.

Amanats frail constitution keeps him at home most of the time, while Zia goes away, first to boarding school and then to London to study. Zia is brilliant at Mathematics and numbers speak to him but his real calling is Economics and the world of financial trading. However Zia's religion is also equally important to him and a failed attempt to assassinate Salman Rushdie takes him to Afghansitan and Kashmir where he becomes a dreaded terrorist.

In the second part, constant visions of a reproachful Christ and the revalation that an aunt (friend of his parents) baptised him in a church as an infant lead him towards Christiantiy and he becomes the monk Lucens. His new crusade is against abortionists.

In the 3rd part, his plan to "correct" the world is even more grandiose and he gets even more dogmatic in his beliefs. He now comes under the influence of Shakta muni who also practices tantra and initiatesZia/Lucens into it and while outwardly he is still Brother Lucens, he also carries a diplomatic passport in the name of Niranjan.

This is the briefest summary of this 610 page novel that I can give you.

Conflict and struggle on a global scale and in the characters hearts and minds. Zia's constant belief in himself as the man who has all the answers is extremely egoistical, but he never sees it in that perspective. He is more critical of everyone and extremely unforgiving.

Amanat on the other hand veers towards self pity without actually going there. He has talents as a teller of tales and in architecture but denies them both to his own detriment.

In a way, both brothers seem intent to follow a path of self destruction.

This is a book that will leave you with as many questions as answers. At 610 pages, the size is massive but the tale will keep you engrossed. The book is well researched and a lovely piece of fiction. If you have the time, then you should definitely give it a try.

Rating: 4/5

1 comment:

Jayati said...

Didnt think i would enjoy yet another book on "fanaticism is not restricted to one religion" theme. this one was a pleasant surprise, despite its size ( i almost exceed weight limit because of this one, on my last flight :))

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