Acquired 15 Aug 2007 – from the publisher

Right – I’ve finished Vol 2 and sent my review in to the publisher – I’m going to make this friends-only until I’ve had it confirmed that I can put the same review out in the world at large!

Samares Mazumdar – “Sky Over the Mountain”

As I am not familiar with the Bengali literary tradition, I am unable to fit this novel into that tradition. But as one of the target readership for this new venture, to translate Bengali literature for a wider, Western audience, I find a wonderful read, lyrical and exciting at the same time, which has a lot to say about modern life, revolution and redemption.

We meet four young revolutionaries, Joyeeta, Sudip, Kalyan and Anand. Their aim is not specifically made clear until part way through the first volume; we learn that they are dissatisfied with the “modern” way of life their parents and their peers are adopting, with affairs, misdeeds, greed and arrogance. Interestingly for the British reader, the book seems to be set in the 1980s, with Thatcher mentioned, and this outlook is similar to the “me me me” 80s outlook we experienced here. The four reject their parents’ aims; they look to the Naxalite rebellions of the 1970s for their heroes, and in fact we find they are linked to them in ways they had not imagined.

So, their manifesto is announced:

We have heard all about the humanitarian policies that the different political parties seem to believe…. And every one of these theorists will grow old and die, still only talking about their theories. There will be no change in the condition of the common man. But when they see that four young kids are attacking these establish power brokers they’ll realise that it can be done, that they too can bring about some change. We respect the naxalite revolution, but we are not following their path. We have to be the masters of our own destiny…” [Vol. 1, p. 336]

And later:

“[Most parents] do not realize that it is their responsibility to shape up the next generation. It is this next generation that is going to take the country ahead” [ibid.]

But this novel is not so much about revolution, as about what happens when you try to implement revolution. About flexibility, if you will.

First of all, Joyeeta’s father surprises them by offering help at risk to himself. Then Anand’s mother reveals some truths which confirm him on his path but lead him to think differently of his father. At the end of the first volume, the tension grows as they attempt, after a successful bombing campaign, to escape Calcutta and make their way to Nepal.

And it is in Nepal that the real challenge to their revolutionary fervour comes, when they find themselves living in a tiny hill village. The people are desperately poor and disorganised. After several divisions between the four, Anand takes charge and they work quietly and hard to improve the lot of the people who have taken them in. Kalyan and Joyeeta redeem themselves, Sudip tries to and fails, and Anand is part of them, but always apart. And their manifesto has changed:

“Marx sahib’s idea was to create a path that would make life easier for common people. Every tortured society in the world sought that path… While building this politics-free society, Anand had constantly felt that what they had done in Calcutta was wrong. Killing wasn’t a way to a revolution. A true communist gave back life, not took it away.” [Vol. 2, p. 374]

As well as a book about politics, and that is important, especially in this age of terrorism and manifestos of hatred, it is a warm, human read and one that appeals to the reader’s emotions as well as intellect. There are comments scattered throughout about Bengali literature :

“’You know I can’t read anything other than thrillers. I can’t even get through the first two pages of these Bengali novels. All either sentimental melodramas, or family soap-like, or some soppy love story. This [Bengali] novel is supposed to be more political. Must be a gimmick to sell more books.’” [Vol. 1, p. 292]

and the characters’ relation to the West is important – they have only experienced snow in European novels and tune in to the BBC. There is also a theme around colonialism

“’The people of Taplung will never become self-dependant as long as we are here. They need to learn to stand on their own. Moreover, I don’t know about you guys, but I am really tired.’” [Vol. 2, p. 351]

and on the role of women in revolution and in life. Another point that must be mentioned is the author’s evident love for the landscape of the Himalayas, which are beautifully and lyrically described, providing a counterpoint to the human striving at their feet.

So, to summarise, an excellent and engaging read, which has something for everyone – politics, human relations, intellectual stimulation and some good old-fashioned police chases and excitement. I would encourage anyone with an interest in any of these facets to read this novel.