SBR: I picked up The Circle of Reason without knowing that I was getting into magical realism. Magical realism, for the uninitiated in simple words, is a genre that combines fantastic and real worlds and goes on as if it is all normal. There won’t be an explanation of the “magical” parts.
In the book the real part is realistic enough. The friendship of college days that lasts even through the subsequent divergence in personalities, views and lifestyle decisions, the phrenology obsessed middle-aged teacher in a quaint Bengal village constituting mostly of refugees from East Bengal, the tragic culmination of paranoid politics and individual madness and a bird-watcher police officer thrown in the chase owing to some complicated turn of office politics make for a strong story. Then the magical elements become more prominent and although I follow the rest of the story, I don’t quite get the point. Since I haven’t read the seminal works of magical realism like One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez or those by Salman Rushdie, I am not sure what to compare it with. Perhaps I will return to this book after I have read some of those.
To read or not to read: If, like me, you are not into the magical realism genre yet, you probably don’t want to start with this book and instead pick up something more widely talked about. If you have read some of those, it might be worthwhile giving this book a try. If you just want to read Amitav Ghosh as an author, I would suggest The Shadow Lines. I am not too fond of his Ibis trilogy, but that has a fan following. So that can also be a good starting point.