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March 9, 2012

Book Review - 74 : The Land of the Wilted Rose


Publisher: Rupa Publications 
Author: Anand Ranganthan

It is the golden age of the Indian empire. The brown man's burden stretches from the temple of Angkor to the chapel of King's. The fate of all mankind is in the hands of a seventeen-year-old Maharaja whose ships rule the waves and armies occupy the four corners of the earth. But all is not well. In the small colony of England, an unassuming little white man decides to fight back. 

This is his story, the story of a man who, armed with only an umbrella and a newspaper-wrapped meal of fish and chips, led millions on the historic Dundee March, towards freedom, and himself into the pages of history as a Great Soul, the White Mahatma. The Land of the Wilted Rose, the first book in The White Mahatma Quartet, is an allegorical work, a black comedy, but it is also a book that seeks to understand the psychological scars empires inflict on the vanquished, scars that fester, that remain unhealed.

The dark humour is a difficult genre to write specially when it is mixed with allegorical mode of presenting the narrative. A story of role reversal, the book starts off brilliantly with such nuanced layering you are pretty much sucked into the world. It is only when the author start getting self-indulgent the narrative loses its steam and meanders all along.

There is fun reading deliberate spelling or pronunciation mistakes by the whites, the tongue-in-cheek humour and the detailed situations, most of them manages to keep your interest alive. However, the author fails to bridge the gap between the readers and her characters. It's unquestionably interesting what happens to these people, you know their lives have changed forever, yet there's a certain unexplained distance that never lets you "feel" these incidents yourself. Remember, the most compelling books are the ones that transport you to the centre of the drama, and make you a participant in the action. The land of the wilted rose is a noble book, an admirable debut, but you don't feel the pain. Never. Ever.

I still need to get my head around why the whole story had to be divided into four different books. Considering it is only 150 odd pages long and just start to pick momentum by the end of the first one, it is surprising to see publisher and the author stretching that over four books. Most of the times, such strategic decisions back fire in books. This is exactly one of those cases. It would have made so much sense to put all the four books into one, packaged and edited them well to create a black comedy.

I am going with 2.5/5 for the first book in White Mahatma's Quartlet, 'The Land of the Wilted Rose'. It is a book which requires patience and lateral thinking to appreciate. If it was not trying so hard to work on a tangential level with weird characters, it would have been much worth it.

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