September 07, 2005

River Beneath The River by Alu Basu

... I have become aware of the many dangers that lurk behind the writer of fiction. The worst of them are:

  1. The idea that the writer must be a sociologist and a politician, adjusting himself to what are called social dialectics.
  2. Greed for money and quick recognition.
  3. Forced originality -- namely, the illusion that pretentious rhetoric, precious innovations in style, and playing with artificial symbols can express the basic and ever-changing nature of human relations, or reflect the combinations and complications of heredity and environment.

These verbal pitfalls of so-called ``experimental'' writing have done damage even to genuine talent ... Literature can very well describe the absurd, but it should never become absurd itself.

-- Issac Bashevis Singer, In the Author's note to The Collected Stories, a selection of his best stories

This novel is a strange tour de force. Part dirge for the future of India, and part fictionalized and thinly disguised history of the violent Naxalite communist movement of West Bengal from the mid-1960s.

The plot of this novel, such as it is, moves between one storyline set in 2050 in the village of Phansijhora, where Malvik Beriya is an over-educated consultant trying to manage his employment problems in a strange economic landscape, in an India colonized by multinational companies. The other storyline is set in 1965, not far from Phansijhora, where the Prince of Arambari loses his kingdom to a violent Marxist-Leninist movement that is populated by the oppressed lower-caste inhabitants of Arambari and young Bengali intellectuals from Calcutta who cross over to China hoping for military aid.

Apart from the free rein afforded by a fictional account of the Naxalite movement, it isn't clear what Alu Basu is driving at. It could be a complex exploration of heredity, or it could simply be a refutation of each of the tenets laid out by Isaac Bashevis Singer in the quote (reproduced above) that appears at the beginning of the book. There is no easy answer, at least for me, to the structure of this novel. If the scenes of incest between Malvik Beriya and his daughter, 12 year old, Neenia are not disturbing enough, the recurring rape and torture scenes might be.

At least one statement is true about this book: it is entirely original. It is apparently entirely alienated from every philosophy and is distant and unsympathetic towards almost every character in this novel. Alu Basu has a particular knack for nihilism and cynicism and this novel seems to address philosophical concerns of the present through the creation of a dystopian future for India. However, in this philosophy, almost no viewpoint is left unexcoriated.

%T River Beneath The River %A Alu Basu %I Magna Publishing %D 1996 %G ISBN: unknown-1996 (pb) %P 296 %K science-fiction

Review written: 2001/07/28

Posted by anoop at September 7, 2005 11:46 AM