Archives for category: Books I Recommend — Fiction

As I’ve been preparing to go on my first trip to India (leaving this coming Tuesday), I’ve augmented my more academic preparations with some enjoyable reading of novels and such.  I hope this review convinces you to get hold of Tarquin Hall’s “Vish Puri” mysteries — they were worth staying up late to read, IMHO.  The two books currently in the series are:

The Case of the Missing Servant, and

The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing

As someone who has not yet been to India, but who is heading there within the week, I was very interested in reading some books about India.  I knew that I should read some history and some highbrow literature.  But I confess that I’m a diehard mystery fan, who finds it easier to swallow background knowledge when it is surrounded by a good story.

Such is the case with the two mystery novels by Tarquin Hall (http://www.tarquinhall.com/), which introduce the reader to a new sleuth:  Vish Puri, a Bengali PI who owns and heads Most Private Investigators, Ltd.  Puri is overweight, very fond of all kinds of Indian foods, and completely confident of his own brilliance and ability to solve any mysteries that come his way.  He bristles at being compared to other sleuths like Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot, never failing to recollect that the tradition of sleuthing and investigation in India preceded these fictional stories by centuries and centuries.  Puri’s wife, Rumpi, and his mother, Mummy-ji, are just as engaging as Puri himself.  Puri’s employees and associates in his private investigation business round out the character list in these two books, each of which focuses on a main mystery and some side jobs investigated by Puri or others in the novels.

I found the author’s skills as a dialogue writer to be most impressive in both books: he writes dialogue the way a local person might speak English whose first language is Punjabi or Hindi.  Each book also includes a most interesting Glossary at the back that explains non-English words, from food names to family nicknames to swear words.  These elements, combined with the “good read” of an entertaining mystery and lots of local color, combine to make for a most enjoyable reading experience.  While the first book is less skillfully written (as mysteries go) than the second, both are well worth diving into.

I was sorry to finish the second book, and to find out that a third book does not yet exist.  Take a look at these for some fun reading and a painless way to learn a bit about Indian culture, food, and language. 

The Books Are:

The Case of the Missing Servant, by Tarquin Hall (2009); and

The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing, by Tarquin Hall (2010).

It’s a few days before I depart for my first visit to India.  In preparation for the trip, not only have I been attending a weekly seminar at Kellogg to familiarize us with the country and its business, but I’ve indulged in a few good novels about India.  Here’s my review of one.

Aravind Adiga’s book, The White Tiger, won the prestigious Man Booker Prize (see http://www.themanbookerprize.com/; this award is given annually to a full-length novel written by a citizen of the British Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland and published in the United Kingdom) in 2008.  A novel of modern India, it presents its story through a series of long, late-night letters written by the book’s protagonist – Balram Halwai – to the Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao.  Through these letters, we learn the history of Balram’s life and of his rise from the stature of a rural son of a rickshaw-puller (i.e., from the poorest of the poor), to becoming the driver for the town’s rich landowner, and ultimately to running his own business – albeit as a fugitive from the law.  Balram’s transformation involves the murder of his own employer, the theft of 700,000 rupees intended as a bribe for a government official, and his identification with “The creature that gets born only once every generation in the jungle” – the white tiger he sees at the National Zoo.  Seeing this magnificent animal in a cage, he recognizes that he must escape his own human and social “cage.”

This book is written in a relentlessly modern, “cool,” and very English (as opposed to Indian) language style.  It is engaging without being trivial; Balram’s letters vividly evoke the rural countryside as well as the incredible traffic jams in Delhi and Gurgaon.  The vast contrasts between poor and wealthy in India, and the extreme rarity associated with rising from the lower classes to the rarefied “White Tiger” level, are shown so strongly that one finds oneself actually rooting for the murderer as the hero of this novel.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in modern India, or just in fine writing and a great story.  I’ll be interested to see how my opinion of the book changes or expands after experiencing India not just vicariously through this book, but in person.

The Book Is:  The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga, 2008.

Learn more about Aravind Adiga’s writings at:  http://www.aravindadiga.com/ .