Book Review: Autobiography of a mad nation
I read Sriram Karri’s Autobiography of a Mad Nation and wondered if something was wrong with me. The book has apparently been longlisted for the MAN Asian Literary Prize. And I suffered through most of it.
The book begins with a rant a few pages long, which has the sort of putrid vile hatred which makes you wonder how the author was wronged really. It then goes directly to a scene where the President of India begins to discuss an eight page letter from one of the protagonists. The letter is long winding and you wonder why the President did not find his senses wandering off (like your senses).
And thus, Karri puts the reader off right at the start with a rant that is vile (and somewhat senile) without having the kind of style that Roy (Arundhati) brings to makes rants readable. And then he goes straight to a section so implausible that he loses you. The President of India is reading an eight page letter and you feel like asking – does the President of India has nothing better to do? Also somehow the President of India has contacts with an intelligence officer who then begins to investigate the contents of the letter – which again seems jarring; doesn’t seem to be plausible again. To make things difficult, Karri’s Mad Nation goes into rant mode ever so often, making you trudge, really trudge slowly. The rants are not stylish, witty – contrast it with Adiga’s decidedly above average (at best) White Tiger (which happened to win a Booker!) – and even then, they pale.
It is a shame that Karri populates the beginning of the book with what reads like his own frustration (I never commiserated with the rants, even though I mostly agree with the content of these rants) and that the plot right at the beginning becomes implausible, because the book is readable thereafter. I enjoyed the references to history – Emergency, Godhra, etc. But the rants kept coming back and putting me off.
It just feels like Karri could have set this book in a fictional nation – maybe made it a 1984 – to justify the implausibilities. Or, written with the style and chutzpah necessary to carry such a heavy topic off. But the book has neither – neither style nor a big blue canvas that extends beyond Karri’s hatred (that’s what the book reads like, pardon me!).
Autobiography of a Mad Nation is promising… but could have been so much better in the hands of someone like Arundhati Roy.
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