Review Blog

Jul 29 2011

The grasshopper's run by Siddhartha Sarma

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Bloomsbury, 2011. ISBN 978 1 408809402.
When the Japanese army invades India in 1944, self obsessed and deranged Colonel Mori orders the wholesale slaughter of the entire population of an innocent and unsuspecting village. Justifying the massacre on the pretext that the village could be hiding units of the British Army, Mori is in reality driven by vicious cruelty and a lust for military power and recognition.
Uti, a village youth who survives the initial attack, lies in wait and kills soldiers before being subdued and then horrendously tortured.
Siddhartha Sarma then introduces the character Gojen who has been Uti's close companion throughout his life, to the degree that they considered themselves brothers, having shared tribal ceremonies, education and family interaction.
As a gifted sportsman and academic, Gojen has enjoyed great success whilst studying at a European college in Bengal and is not troubled by any sense of inequality amongst his Colonial peers.
When he learns of the village's fate and the death of his soul brother, Gojen returns home traumatised and seeks to assist in avenging Ut's death by providing information gathered from British Military Intelligence. The boy practices target shooting and the reader appreciates that he is an accomplished long distance marksman who naturally desires to apply his skills against the Japanese. Gojen's father is relatively wealthy as an indigenous noble and forbids his son to join the foray into a battleground where the defending British are frantically mustering reinforcements against the seemingly unstoppable Japanese might.
Defying his father, Gojen sneaks out and joins other villagers intent on seeking revenge. The journey to find Mori is slow and many cultural relationships and local references are introduced, making the narrative difficult to follow for those unfamiliar with Indian social history.
In the turmoil of battle, the story gathers pace and the reader understands that the local Indians act in spite of, rather than in support of, the British who they still regard as an occupying force, albeit a more benign and constructive one compared with the Japanese.
Gojen wrestles with his own fear and Uti's spirit as events unfold.
Rob Welsh

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