Monday, May 26, 2014

Book Review: Far Beyond the Dead End - Saikat Baksi

After a long time I have finally come around to reading novels again. I recently started reading Nine Lives by William Dalrymple, but midway through it I received the book 'Far Beyond The Dead End' by the author Saikat Baksi. I was apprehensive about taking it up, given my self-imposed sabbatical from book reviews for a long time. But the theme of the book compelled me to give it a chance. And I read it in one go - literally.

Saikat Baksi's fourth novel, Far Beyond The Dead End is set in the Harappan era some 3,500 years in the past. The book is a brilliant piece of fiction, with intricately carved characters and a backdrop that depicts the lifestyle and town planning of the settlements that would have constituted the Indus Valley Civilisation thousands of years ago. The USP of the book is the fact that every page is a surprise, unpredictable and unique, because most of us haven't read a book of this genre ever before. There's nothing to compare it to. This single factor makes it a very interesting read.

The pages gradually and painstakingly unfold how the Harappans lived, what they ate, how and with whom they traded and how everyday administration was carried out back then. Now this information is easily available in a lot of historians' and archaeologists' research papers and books on their findings about the bygone civilisation. But they won't find many takers among the common readers, being only of interest to students or enthusiasts of history. Herein comes the author, who has cleverly banked upon this lacuna and moulded the history of the civilisation into a fictional plot, building characters that are relatable for the modern readers and interpersonal relations that have their counterparts even in today's society. Thus emerged this book - both a lesson in history as well as an engaging read.



The plot revolves around a few main characters - the sensuous and intellectual Koli, her learned and respected old father, the dreamy and unconventional Sindhu, the greedy and calculative Girad, and the lovelorn Magan. The story combines elements of love, deceit, greed, art and intellect as the characters indulge in various tactics and methods to achieve what their heart yearns for. The author has admittedly undertaken research for 7 whole years (the bibliography is quite extensive!) before completing this novel, so the authenticity of the facts mentioned and the lifestyle described in the book are not subject to doubt.

Being a perpetual history enthusiast, I already had a good idea about the Indus Valley Civilisation and having that knowledge corroborated so beautifully by this piece of fiction was a delight of sorts for me. Reading the book was like watching an entire ancient civilisation play out in front of my eyes - it was a visual peek into history. I am not sure how many readers would appreciate that, but I sure do.

The crux of the book is quite cliched though - in the end, everything is about the woman. Crimes of passion, hatred, competition and manipulation all revolve around one woman in focus. I didn't particularly like this underlying sub-theme of the novel. I also didn't expect the way in which it concluded, although I understand that it was the only possible and feasible way to end the story. Here are some of the good and bad things about the book that readers must pay heed to.

Pros:

1. The language of the book is lucid and sophisticated, with a good amount of vocabulary thrown in every now and then. It was an easy and fun read for me.
2. With just 224 pages and a simply narrated plot, it is a light read and keeps you hooked so that you can finish it in one or two nights at best.
3. It is priced at a decent Rs. 150, which makes it totally worth the purchase.

Cons:

1. The cover page needs a serious overhaul. The substance and depth of the book are not depicted well through the digitally created murder mystery kind of cover that it presently has. The book deserves a much better and well thought out cover to complement the plot.
2. Being a Grammar Nazi, I found several typographical and grammatical mistakes in the book, particularly during the initial 80-90 pages. The editors of the book need to do a better job before taking out the next batch of copies.

All in all, Far Beyond The Dead End is a good read and deserves more attention and praise than the unassuming author demands. It is a must-read for anyone interested in a mystery/suspense story with a historical twist. I would give 3.5 stars to it.
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