This, mis amigos, is the last book review of 2018.
Now, now. Before you start weeping, let me assure you of this: I will continue reviewing books under this hashtag #MithilaReviewsBooks in 2019 and 2020 and in 2022 (2021 is a gap year. Thank you, academics). I will, however, reduce the number of review copies I accept from publishing houses and authors to an almost-nil figure. I have decided to review only the books I choose to read, come 2019.
Getting back to the review.
Harilal & Sons by Sujit Saraf is a historical fiction book about the life of a Marwari family, illustrated against the backdrop of the World War II and The Freedom Struggle in India. Readers are invited to follow the story of Harilal Tibrewal, the main protagonist, right from his days as a 12-year-old facing the Chhappaniya famine in his hometown of Shekhavati to his flourishing days as a trader in Bogra.
It is also the extensive tale of his two wives and ever-burgeoning family of sons, daughters, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren. The author provides a microscopic view into the lives of each of the characters, which may seem tedious in some instances. However, the author also ensures that the reader feels right at home, amid the overwhelming cacophony of the dreams and dilemmas of all the characters.
What I liked about this book is the comprehensive research Saraf has done to provide an authentic, concise experience to the reader. I call it concise because the author manages to zoom into the numerous experiences of Harilal and his family (spanning 50+ years) into a 528-pages-long novel, while retaining the grandeur of the overall plot and theme of the book.
I learnt about the various Marwari traditions surrounding the birth of a child, marriage and death of a person as well as the curious way the Marwari mind works when it comes to business and family relations. The author breaks down the stereotypical kanjoos marwari for an open analysis, leaving the reader to form his/her/their opinion.
Though Harilal primarily dealt in jute, I also gleaned insights about the business of selling hosiery, cigarettes, grain, as well as Harilal’s devotion to the cow, a natural benefactress beyond comparison. I must add, the character arc of Harilal is perfectly designed and intriguing enough to power the reader through right upto the last page of the book.
Another important point to be noted: The narrations of the historical past of India are enthralling. The relations between the Marwari, Musalman and Bengali community as well as the Sahibs (Britishers) is explored through the depiction of characters like the Nawabzada, Mangiram, Yule Sahib and many more. I haven’t read many historical fiction books based in India, so I wouldn’t be able to provide an adequate comparison of this book to other books of the same genre. But I can assure you this: If you are keenly interested in understanding the Marwari culture and the role they played in the former half of the 20th century, this book is for you.
Though I did think that the book got a bit too much to digest, I wouldn’t want to change a single line from this book. The easy-flowing language used by the author compensates for the length of the book. My word of advice to a prospective reader would be: Take this book slow. Don’t expect to finish it in one week. Pair it with a less-serious, more-fun book. Treat it with the same sacred attention you reserve for a non-fiction book.
I give this book 4.5 stars out of 5 stars!
I wish all my readers a happy and prosperous New Year. See you on the other side, armed with too many book reviews! 🙂
Note: I would like to thank the publishers, Speaking Tiger, for sending me a review copy of this book