Author: Manjula Padmanabhan
Publisher: Picador India
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In a country where women have been exterminated, one little girl remains alive. Her name is Meiji. Her uncles, Eldest, Middle and Youngest, have raised her against all odds. As her body buds into puberty, her aging guardians realize they cannot protect her from the vicious Generals who now nominate their world, assisted by artificially created slaves called Drones and marauding bands of witless Boy Soldiers who rove a brutalized landscape through which Youngest and Meiji must travel to escape. Youngest will have to deep dig into his resources to ensure their survival. But he has a greater challenge along the way: explaining to Meiji what it means to be female in an all-male world and why she must learn to control the powerful forces that are being unleashed within herself as she matures.
A gripping adventure and an oddly poignant romance, ESCAPE is rigorously imagined, philosophically powerful book that takes a raw fact of our present world- the declining sex ratio- and turns it into a vision of the future. At its core, though, it is an examination of love, of growing pains, and that of sexuality. Meiji is just not protected well by his uncles but also her physical development has been suppressed so that she remains a child only. Each detail about her living and approaching even the minutest every day work has been perfectly captured, turning her into a fascinating character. How slowly and gradually...she is exposed to her own sexuality, how she comes into terms with it - both in shock and awe is quite magnificently captured.
Escape works at different levels: It is a thriller, cat-and-mouse adventure set in an unique women-less world, it is a budding quirky romance between the two protagonists, it is sexual awakening for the last lady in the country to an obnoxious world of pervasive all-men world. The characters are amoral and disturbing; but have layers over them which are elucidated gradually to effectively exploit their trials and tribulations. The narrative flows smoothly, and even when it gets into reflective mode... the narrative is hold on tightly by some sharp writing and graceful restraint. When the screenplay plunges into exploring Meiji's sexuality - wearing of a prosthetic penis or painful realization of her first period; you are compelled to fully empathize with these situations.
The youngest uncle who takes this journey with Meiji turns out to be a one hell of a character. He is caring and affectionate towards him, but can't help being turned on by her. After all, he is a virgin male and she is the only female in the country. You can feel the irony in his actions; he is responsible for safeguarding Meiji to the destination but at the same time has to teach her exactly how different she is in this world and inside a female body. The ideas thrown in are novel, the situations are unique and hence, the reactions of the protagonists are varied. All this ultimately makes this book a perfect weekend read.
I am going with 4.5/5 for Manjula Padmanabhan, Escape. It takes a pertinent social issue and turn it on its head to give a throbbing portrait of human emotions, love and lust. I would have preferred a close ending rather than open one, but that give us all the more indication of a sequel to this one. Read it because it explores the possibilities of the human mind, stretches your imagination. It never preaches, still weaves an enthralling tale which will be difficult to get out of your head, days after you have finished reading it. Strongly recommended, read it if you haven't yet!