Length: 294 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Indian Literature
Publisher: Akshora Publications
Date of Publication: 28th July, 2019
Rating: 2.5/5 stars
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review
Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres to read. There aren’t many Indian authors who have written in this genre so I was really curious to see how this book would turn out.
“Mumbai, December 2016: A young man found an ancient-looking piece of stone with strange images and Sanskrit inscriptions. A quest to know the origin of the stone brought him to the distant part of the country. Chandannagar, December 2016: A young vivacious historian woman read an old book on a century-old secret story about a little known part of the country. Her curiosity got the better of her as the book disappeared mysteriously before she could complete it. She reached a sleepy quaint state of the country to satiate her curiosity. Eventually they both met and their search began from the city museum to a far-flung rock mountain which revealed a century-old story of a seductive danseuse, her enigmatic lover, a string of her admirers, a painter with a photographic memory, a bird that could speak in many voices, a benevolent king and a gruesome conspiracy. And the most important clue to decode the final secret was with the missing part of “The Speaking Stone” But in the process of unearthing old secrets, their life was also in danger.”
The book follows the recent trend of multiple timelines to tell the story. We are transported between the British colonised India of the 1900s and the 21st century India. The book also has multiple points of view, one of our present-day hero, Saikat and one of Indrajit, the villain in the past. We also have supporting characters that have similar-sounding names and similar characteristics both in the past and in the present. I did not think that this was a necessity but was curious to see how the author would tie everything together in the end.
The story begins with Shuvashini, an aspiring Ph.D. scholar getting her research proposal rejected and looking for a more interesting topic. Parallel to this, we have Saikat finding a mysterious stone and being intrigued by the images on it. They conveniently get together in their quest for knowledge and adventure. Unfortunately, Shuvashini now forgets that she is an intelligent, self-sufficient and strong young woman and is content to play second fiddle to the new and ‘amazing’ man in her life. Saikat insists on calling her “stupid girl” which I think the author meant as a term of endearment but did not read that way to me. Shuvashini willingly accompanies Saikat, a man who was practically a stranger until a few days ago, at any time of the day, even without knowing where he was taking her. Shuvashini, who is described as a girl who does not care for people’s opinions on subjects, suddenly needs Saikat to explain simple things to her and is okay with pretending to need a strong man to help her understand obvious clues. Meanwhile, the author is hellbent on telling readers that Saikat is essentially unemployed with the sole goal in life of ‘wasting his father’s money’. How a girl like Shuvashini who places knowledge and hard work over everything else falls in love with a man like Saikat is a mystery that one must solve on their own.
While the present-day story did not impress me, the story of the past was fun to read. The descriptions of the grandeur of the palace, the skills of the dancers and sculptures were a pleasure. I wish that the book had been edited to get a crisp reading experience and to avoid the multiple regressions in grammar and punctuation. Most of the sentences that were unnecessarily long. There were a lot of instances where multiple words that mean the same were used in succession making the page read like a thesaurus. I appreciate the author’s dedication to getting an illustrator to draw things that he describes in the story but it seemed a bit redundant. I wish he had spent a bit more time and effort on ensuring the scientific accuracy of hibernation patterns of reptiles and the fluorescent/phosphorescent nature of rocks instead.
Ratnadip Acharya is the author of two successful novels, Life is Always Aimless… Unless you love it and Paradise Lost & Regained. He is a columnist for the Speaking Tree in The Times of India. He contributed many write-ups in different collections of Chicken Soup for the Soul. He lives in Mumbai with his wife, Sophia and son, Akash. He is a voracious reader who felt a deep urge within his being to narrate his original thoughts
This work include:
- Life is Always Aimless (2013)
- Paradise Lost and Regained (2015)
- The Speaking Stone (2019)
TL;DR: A book with a good premise that would have done better with a crisp editing process
Have you come across any Indian historical fiction work. I’d love some recommendations
Tell me on the comments below or on my Instagram @thefoodandbooklife