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The Tiger by the River - Ravi Shankar Etteth

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Author: Ravi Shankar Etteth / Genre: Fiction

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      31.08.2006 11:20
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      Colourful and vivid

      I rarely judge a book by its cover, but in this case, it was the cover that persuaded me to read this book. The cover is very plain, except for s picture of a tiger with a man riding on his back – this is apparently a scene from a 19th century Indian painting. As a fan of traditional Asian art, this really caught my eye. Once I got the book home and started reading it, I was pleased to find that the content of the book matched the cover – colourful, vivid and slightly mysterious. This is a very unusual book, but one that I would definitely recommend.

      The story
      Swati Varma, the direct successor of the kingdom of Panayur, is a successful businessman married to a beautiful woman, Nina, who is about to give birth to their first child. Life is rosy, until one morning, Nina is killed in a road accident. Grief-stricken, he decides to return to his childhood home of Panayur to scatter Nina’s ashes into the Papanasini River.

      Once there, he meets his childhood friend, Antara, servant and adopted daughter of his mother and keeper of the palace of Panayur. Talking to her, he is reminded of his childhood and the values taught to him by his mother. Antara helps him to deal with the death of his wife and also provides him with a key to his ancestor’s past.

      At the same time, a cousin of Swati’s adopted and brought up in the United States, finds a letter that points to his family roots. Together with the beautiful Kay, he traces his family back to Panayur and plans to take his grandfather’s ashes back there.

      The characters
      Swati Varma is a slightly mysterious character who undergoes quite a change throughout the book. At the beginning, he is a man in charge of his life with responsibilities towards his job and wife. Her death turns his life upside down and suddenly the desire to go home to his roots is strong. Thereafter, he begins to live in the past and his life becomes tied up with the stories of his ancestors and myths of the area. This sounds odd, but makes perfect sense when reading through. He is not a particularly strong character, although definitely the strongest in the book, but then this book is not dependent so much on characters, but rather the layers of the story.

      The only two other characters who play more than a fleeting role in the book are Antara and cousin Vel. Antara has had a sad life. In love with Swati when he left to go to university many years before, she has never forgotten him and has never found another man. Her son, unaware that Swati is his father, has become involved in the religious turmoil that is encroaching into the area and despises the way that his mother still worships Swati. Despite this, she is not a woman to feel sorry for herself. She was my favourite character in the book; I felt both pity and admiration for her. Like Swati, Vel is another confused character. He is half Indian, half German, brought up by a white American family, unaware of his family’s past. I did feel that this character was not as well developed as it could be. He did not appear in the book until the second half and even then, his story was interspersed with the ongoing story of Swati and his family.

      Conclusion
      This is certainly an original book. Initially, I thought it would be quite hard-going, but it was surprisingly readable and I found it quite difficult to put down. It seemed that the story would be quite straightforward – a man who has lost his wife rediscovering his past. Instead, when he has returned to Panayur, it becomes obvious that his life is just one layer of the story. The other layers include stories of Swati’s ancestors and local myths, as well as Vel’s story, all of which are cleverly wound in to the main story. This adds a huge amount of colour to the book, especially the recurring theme of the tiger in the title.

      The book was written in English, or at least, I couldn’t find anywhere where it mentioned a translation. The language was beautiful – although I couldn’t fault the English, it was so obviously written by an Asian writer – there was so much colour in his descriptions of nature and the past.

      I had just a couple of small niggles. One is that the book did seem to peter out towards the end and I was slightly beginning to lose interest. The ending was certainly not what I expected, but then neither was the whole book. The other is that although there was a glossary at the back to explain the smattering of Indian language (I don’t know which one), but it wasn’t enough – there were still some words not mentioned in the glossary that I would have liked to understand.

      All in all, I really enjoyed this book. I think you have to have an interest in the Far East because it is certainly very un-English, for all that it is written in English, but I recommend anyone that does or that simply wants to read something a bit different, reads this book.

      The book is available from Amazon for £5.59. Published by Black Swan, it has 288 pages. ISBN: 0552771821

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    • Product Details

      Outstanding...this sad yet uplifting story continues to haunt long after the book is back on the shelf.