Book of the Month: English August by Upamanyu Chatterjee
“Marvellously intelligent and entertaining” – one of the reviews printed on the back cover of English August says and I concur. Profanity, sexual jokes, and scatological humor abound, the protagonist is drunk and stoned almost every single moment, you feel like whacking him for being an indulgent, self-absorbed, spoiled youth who doesn’t take anything or anybody seriously; and yet you can’t help but see the world through his eyes – in all its mundane, petty and purposeless glory.
You can decide what to make of the book. You can laugh out loud and forget about things. You can identify with the protagonist’s sense of purposelessness and isolation if you have been or are going through a similar experience yourself. You can wonder about the big, fat Indian bureaucracy, its lethargy and its corruption. You can hate our hero for being apathetic to a job where he could impact several lives meaningfully if only he would stop being cynical. And that is the beauty of the writing. It doesn’t preach or impose anything on you.
English August is a true modern Indian novel. There is no romanticization of either the good or the bad. There are no exotic, dreamy portrayals. No ultimate happy union of the east and the west, of the megalopolis and the hinterland, of the Kolkata-and-Delhi-boy and the small-town locals. It is an affectionate yet unsparing portrayal of India.
In its craft, language and style, it stands right along with the best English novels worldwide.
Below is the book description from the publisher’s website. (The edition I read was from Rupa and Co.)