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Issue 107 - Culture Fiction

Whisky Magazine Issue 107
October 2012


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Culture Fiction

Jefferson Chase looks at a novel set in India in the early 20th century

There are a lot of qualities that can help make a great novelist. These days it seems one of the most frequent is being able to draw on Indian heritage.

The latest 'Indian' author to wow my socks off is England's Hari Kunzru. His father is from Kashmir while his mother is a British Anglican. Kunzru was an established journalist when he published his 2002 debut novel The Impressionist, but there was no preparation for the book's massive scope.

Set in the early 20th century, the story revolves around the adolescent orphan of a white Englishman and an upper-caste Indian woman, who's called Pran Nath and whom twists of fate take from place to place, requiring radical reinventions of identity. Perhaps the funniest section of the book has our hero as a male concubine in a fictional region of India called Fatehpur. There he is charged with seducing the local representative of the Crown, a Major Privett-Clampe.

This is not an easy task, given the major's fondness for pre-noon libations: On his head is a crumpled green crepe-paper crown, a relic of the religious festival the British have been celebrating that day. The Major has been sweating, and the hat's cheap dye has begun to stain his forehead. A tumbler and a halfempty bottle of domestic whisky (‘Highland Paddock', manufactured in Calcutta by the illustrious firm of Banerji Brothers) sit in front of him.

The friction between British and Indian cultures causes no end of satiric targets to pop up, and Kunrzu is very adept at ...

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