Sunday, January 18, 2015

Song of Kali

Robert Luczak comes to India to find out whether the great poet M. Das is still alive and whether the poem that has surfaced has indeed been written by that man. He quickly comes to realise that this will be a lot harder than he expected and may cost him more than just a little time and money.

Song of Kali by Dan Simmons is an exercise in othering. It's set in Calcutta and there is not one single Indian character who's really likeable or even just decent, with the exception of the main character's wife. But she's nothing more than a sounding board for Robert and doesn't really do anything. The description of Calcutta are not flattering, to put it mildly, which is kind of the point of the whole book that sets out to make the city into the villain of the story. I have no first-hand knowledge of India, but I imagine that people do get a huge culture shock, so yes, that explains some of it. But still, it left a bad taste for me, there are no saving graces in what the characters experience, it's all bad.

I also hated the relationship between the Robert and his wife. They rarely tell each other the truth, their daughter was conceived because his wife stopped taking the pill without telling him and he knows perfectly well that she does not want to go to India, let alone take their newborn daughter and still goes ahead with it.

After a couple of pages, I could pretty much see where all this was going. An American takes his wife and newborn child into a dangerous, mysterious city where neither of them speaks the language (his wife only speak Hindi, not Bengali) and the book is called Song of Kali. I wouldn't have bet any money on the life of the kid.

Having said all that, I have to admit that the story is well done. It's incredibly creepy at times, fast-paced and well-written. So I'm in two minds about this. Robert is not exactly a great hero or a likeable character - that would have made the whole book insufferable. Even so, I found the whole description of India bordering on racist at the very least. It's a bit like reading Kipling (and with much less excuse since the book was published in 1985). So read at your own risk.

Reviews 2015

No comments:

Post a Comment