I finished my second book in the Man Asian Literary Prize competition some days ago. It was Sarita Mandanna’s Tiger Hills. It is what is known I think as an epic as it covers about three generations of south indian society in the Coorg region, known apparently as the ‘Scotland of India’. Its passage is through the years from 1878 until the late 1930s and this timeline was dealt with well in the book with the changing circumstances of local life being depicted as a backcloth to the stories of the main protagonists. The influences of colonialism were evident and the nature of caste society also well depicted. The way in which society changes both in terms of its religious beliefs, its agriculture and industry and the coming of independence were well presented. The growing secularisation of society against a backdrop of both traditional beliefs, hinduism and christianity was an intersting theme. One of the cultural issues which interested me was the role which suicide plays in late nineteenth century society in solving issues and problems. I don’t know how historically accurate this is but the book appeared very well researched.
The story revolves around the changing fortunes of two key individuals, Devi and Devanna and those who form part of their extended families. It is full of twists and turns, love unrequited, love waiting for its moment and finding sometimes that moment has passed and the hurts people can cause and create and the difficulty of moving beyond them. I found a passage late on in the book very persuasive as a dictum for life and squandered relationships and I quote it here:
‘to let go of hurt, to cast bitterness aside. This is the only way forward. To cast aside the pain and allow hope a chance once more. We drift through time, sometimes in shadow, sometimes blistering under the sun, laying ourselves open to the skies. Until, inevitably, we begin to heal, the lips of our wounds coming slowly together. We fill with light, with grace, capable once more of opening our hearts, of letting someone in’
I enjoyed the book. It was well written and an engaging and sufficiently twisting storyline to keep suspense and interest in it. Not sure if it is a great novel nor whether it will make the short list on the prize. I have now read the two I can get hold of and it is frustrating that I cannot seem to track down the other eight which I want to read. May have to resort to Amazon and a bulk order.One shop announced it will stock the books but when I asked when, I got the vaguest of replies. Given the short list is in February my hopes of reading all before then are diminishing.
Postscript: I have managed to order 3 from Amazon – Feiyu, Joseph and Oe so we shall see how well the post system works. The others were not yet available except one in hard cover for £44 which I decided against. So still searching for five of them to meet my goal.