The Circle of Reason – Review

Book: The Circle of Reason
Author: Amitav Ghosh
Year: 1986

Amitav Ghosh’s debut novel begins in a small village called Lalpukur in the Bengal region. It begins from here and travels around half the globe, to Africa, to meet its end. The lead characters in this fable are Balaram, Nachiketa Bose, Bhudeb Roy, Zindi and Jyoti Das. The story revolves around Louis Pasteur, Physicians, Rationalists, bird loving cops, a shrewd politician, ‘Reason’ and weaving. It starts when an eight year old Nachiketa reaches Lalpukur’s railway station to spend the rest of his life with his uncle, Balaram. Neither Balaram nor Nachiketa have seen each other before this morning.

The moment Balaram sees Nachiketa the dormant Phrenologist in him awakens. Nachiketa, or Alu as he is called for the rest of his life, literally meaning Potato in Indian, has one of the weirdest of heads ever seen by him; ever seen by any of the folks residing in Lalpukur, actually. Alu’s head is an enigma for Balaram and he could barely restrain himself from measuring the head from every lump to every knot, that covers his head, scaring the little kid into confinement for a long time.

The events that take place after a few years is what Alu’s life is all about. He has to run away from the village after Roy makes the police believe that he is a terrorist hell bent on ruining him and his honest efforts to develop Lalpukur. Alu’s travel to Al-Ghazira and beyond make up the crux of the book.

The book was well written. It has a base story from where numerous branches shoot out into the minds of every character’s development and history.

But a word about the narration. It makes following the story very difficult if, like it happened with me, the book is kept aside and read after a gaping interval of a week. The story is actually simple enough but the way it keeps oscillating into the past and the present makes it difficult to keep ones grip on the present story line  I’m not saying that the story’s mythology isn’t important. Of course it is. It gives a very tingling bite into the character’s personality and helps builds them up.

Amitav Ghosh
Amitav Ghosh

Amitav Ghosh has put in a lot of research and tit-bits of general know how’s of the village life in the book. The superstitions, the general naivety, the starry eyes reception of a rich man etc are aptly done. The smaller details of every character’s life spun in to the story reveal to the readers that the author has actually painstakingly gone through the rigmarole of noting down the twitches and shrugs minutely of his characters. You can start seeing Boloi-da in his lungi and can imagine him walking his walk. You can almost see Balram with his instrument measuring Alu’s head with delight.

The characterization of Lalpukur and it’s growth through times and trouble help you understand, and accept, it’s mentality. Superstitions, illiteracy, simpletons, the works, you accept it all! While this particular aspect gives extremely high marks to the author for his penmanship and creativity it makes reading, I’m really sorry to admit, a task. The story spirals into a canvas too large to comprehend too many times with too many characters.

Amitav Ghosh is a writer par excellence and brings justice to every character. Each and everyone has a story, a past and a present. He builds them up with care and infuses so much life into them that they seem real. As I see it, the only reason why I couldn’t keep up with the story was because of his unimaginably gigantic canvas. The story runs either ways; begins with the present and peeps behind it at random intervals. Not only the characters even the canvas has a story. Lalpukur and Al-Ghazira has a story. The Star has a story. The Maliks who ruled Al-Ghazira have a story. Ghosh has even shown glimpses of the American love of Capitalism in this book!

Everything is brilliant. But, personally speaking, it was a task to keep up. Maybe, because I was in a hurry to finish it. Maybe, because it was like reading the biography of a whole village. I read somewhere that to really relish this book one ought to read it again without hurrying through it.

And I will do just that.

Bookhad rates the book 3/5.



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