Thursday, April 26, 2007

Red Earth and Pouring Rain

Title: Red Earth and Pouring Rain
Author: Vikram Chandra
Year: 1995
Country: India
Rating: B+
Pages: 520 Book From: Personal library (used book sale)

Woohoo! Another Chunkster down the hatch! This is a book in which I truly feel accomplished after finishing, as it had previously been so daunting.

Interesting fact: The title of Vikram Chandra's first novel is taken from a Tamil poem that is amongst the oldest available, dating to approximately 200CE. 'Red Earth and Pouring Rain' refers to the first monsoon rains of the season falling on the dry, parched soil of the red-earthed hills.

Red Earth and Pouring Rain
What could my mother be
to yours? What kin is my father
to yours anyway? And how
Did you and I meet ever?
But in love
our hearts have mingled
as red earth and pouring rain

I first heard of Red Earth and Pouring Rain about three ago, when I spotted it on a friend's bookshelf. A few months later, I nabbed a copy for myself at a used book sale, but since then it has been lingering on my bookshelf. I'm so glad I added it to the Chunkster Challenge, as it is a wonderful book.

Red Earth and Pouring Rain bursts with stories in a language that is powerful and emotional. You are quickly introduced to a dizzying array of characters whose stories are slowly woven together as the novel progresses. At the center of this is Sanjay Paraher, for it is he, once a 19th century Brahmin poet, who has been reincarnated as the typing monkey that is relaying these tales to a captive audience. (Yes, you read that correctly--a typing monkey.)

Rounding out the tales, but not necessarily enhancing the storyline, are the adventures of a young Indian's journey across modern-day America. Many of the characters making an appearance in the novel are based on real historical figures that played a part in the colonizing of India. In the fashion of a true storyteller, you never quite know where you're going to end up. But ultimately, Red Earth and Pouring Rain is a story about redemption.

What brought this novel down a notch is the stories of Abhay, the Indian who went to college in America. It was hard on the senses to be transported from epic battles, Rajput chidren born of magic laddoos, and immortality, to somewhat annoying college students that drive while intoxicated and high on cocaine. I assume there is some sort of symbolic connection between the two stories, but I didn't quite catch it.

How to tell a story properly:
A calm storyteller must tell the story to an audience of educated, discriminating listeners, in a setting of sylvan beauty and silence. Thus the story is perfect in itself, complete and whole. So it has always been, so it must be.
All stories have in them the seed of all other stories; any story, if continued long enough, becomes other stories, and she is no true storyteller who would keep this from you.

The beginning of colonization in India:
Though cities are often destroyed, sometimes they do not vanish, sometimes they become invisible and invade the hearts and minds of the destroyers, who then live forever changed. So the newcomers and the old ones collided and metamorphosed into a thing wholly new and unutterably old, fell into new orbits around new centres of gravity.

The endurance of hope:
Then they were both quiet, and they walked on, their faces set towards the sunrise, night their sanctuary: in this fragile darkness, delivered of the malignant judgements of reason, the past and present are the same, and the future is lit by the radiant light of hope, and the spirits of your ancestors walk beside you; in the trembling of the earth underneath and the movements of indistinct animals is all the pain of the mother, who loves the universe and makes it well.


Happy Reader said...

Thanks for the wonderful review! Do you happen to know the Tamil poem the book's title is based upon? Tamil happens to be my mother tongue and I am all the more curious now :)

Bookfool said...

Congrats on finishing a big one! This one's on my wish list; glad you enjoyed it. :)

Nyssaneala said...

@happy reader - The poem is actually titled 'Red Earth and Pouring Rain'. It was translated into English in 1985 in a book called Poems of Love and War by A.K. Ramanujan. I don't speak Tamil, so I have no idea how that translates back to the original lang. it was written in. :)

@bookfool - Thanks! 2 more to go in the Chunkster Challenge--I hope I can do it!

Happy Reader said...

A.K.Ramanujan is a well renowned author and I am going to look for his poem collection you mentioned. Thank you :)

Nyssaneala said...

Hmm, I had never heard of him before. Looks like I'll have to do some more research to see what he's written!a

Lotus Reads said...

A good friend of mine is currently reading "Red Earth and Pouring Rain", I will point him to your excellent review!

Sanjay said...

As Lotus said, it is indeed an excellent review of what has so far been a very intriguing and engaging book.
I think you captured the essence of the book very well. Thank you!

Kenneth said...

yeah i loved this book :) just read it a week back!!!

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