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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tale of splendour and desolation... narrated by a monkey ?
This massive, complex, multi-facetted book can be read in many ways: as a contemporary attempt to recapture the epic complexities of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana; as a diatribe against the evils of colonialism (both the nineteenth-century British version and its new American counterpart); as an attack on the emptiness of modern capitalist consumerism... No doubt all...
Published on 1 Mar 2004 by Dr. Kenneth W. Douglas

versus
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I ought to have enjoyed it more than I did
You won't read a bad review of this book anywhere. Many will claim it is a work of greatness, other will use the word 'genius'. Most will tell you that the charm of the book comes from the characterisation, the vivid images of India (and Indian culture) and the warmth of the narrative.
All true.
I have only one gripe: I'm not the fastest reader in the world, and...
Published on 23 Nov 2001 by G. ADAIR


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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tale of splendour and desolation... narrated by a monkey ?, 1 Mar 2004
This review is from: Red Earth and Pouring Rain (Paperback)
This massive, complex, multi-facetted book can be read in many ways: as a contemporary attempt to recapture the epic complexities of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana; as a diatribe against the evils of colonialism (both the nineteenth-century British version and its new American counterpart); as an attack on the emptiness of modern capitalist consumerism... No doubt all true in their way, but for me the most astute comment on the book comes from Adam Thorpe (a man who knows a thing or two about storytelling himself): "telling a story - hundreds of them - becomes its own life-preserving act".
And what a story it is. Indian student Abhay, recently returned from the U.S.A., shoots a monkey which is stealing food. The badly wounded creature, rescued by his horrified relatives, announces that it contains the soul of the poet Sanjay: when Yama, God of the Dead, turns up (rapidly followed by several other minor cabinet ministers of the Hindu pantheon), Sanjay negotiates a stay of execution in exchange for his life story. (The obvious parallel here is with Sheherazade in "The Thousand and One Nights", and certainly Chandra's novel is very much "about" the power of narrative.) Sanjay tells us a tale that has it all: he has lived through most of the period of British colonialism, and spares us none of its horrors and injustices; but his tale also has love interest; epic battle scenes; a strong dash of magical realism, or even magical surrealism (twins are born miraculously after the consumption of sticky buns; Sanjay becomes a creature of the Undead to pursue fellow immortal Jack the Ripper through the streets of Victorian London); and perhaps most remarkably, recurrent scenes of emotional desolation on an epic scale (it's a difficult mood to describe, but no-one does it as well as Chandra: the same mood recurs in his collection of linked novellas, "Love and Longing in Bombay"). Intercut with Sanjay's tale, and drawing ironic parallels between British and American imperialism, is Abhay's own narrative of his experiences as a student in America: this has its own scenes of epic emotional desolation.
A strange, beautiful and unique book; and the best story (indeed, hundreds of them) I've read for a long time.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magical, 12 Jun 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Red Earth and Pouring Rain (Paperback)
A superbly evocative and magical tour of India from colonial days to..... (ah, to tell you taht would give far too much away. Beautifully written, from an Indian perspective throwing light on many aspects of native life, passions, gods and lives. You can actually feel the heat, the rains, the beauty, the mystery of India. An excellent book. Highly recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Symbols of resistance, 3 Jan 2004
This review is from: Red Earth and Pouring Rain (Paperback)
Red Earth and Pouring Rain is a remarkable novel. The author has spun a web of intriguing stories, exploring the impact of British colonialism on India and the Indian people.
With an overwhelming and often humorous use of symbolism, Chandra deals with events and issues that have shaped India with devastating consequences. Independence, partition and today's communal violence are all located in the social antagonisms unleashed by colonisation.
At its heart, Red Earth and Pouring Rain conveys the torment of being robbed of a cultural identity. The novel's many characters all struggle with a sense of being a stranger in a foreign land-a theme that Chandra explores using both Indian and European characters.
Out of these struggles for personal identity there come stories of resistance to colonial rule-from a Calcutta printer, who secretes hidden subversive messages in the books he prints, to the hero of the book who leads an armed mutiny against the British.
Few books, fiction or non-fiction, have got me thinking so much about India and the affects of British colonialism. The parallels for the new century couldn't be any closer.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I ought to have enjoyed it more than I did, 23 Nov 2001
By 
G. ADAIR - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
You won't read a bad review of this book anywhere. Many will claim it is a work of greatness, other will use the word 'genius'. Most will tell you that the charm of the book comes from the characterisation, the vivid images of India (and Indian culture) and the warmth of the narrative.
All true.
I have only one gripe: I'm not the fastest reader in the world, and as such I tended to read this book in small chunks, day to day. The trouble is that this book is composed of un uncountable number of seemingly unconnected stories, sometimes nested one inside another. No sooner have you met one character and situation than the author introduces another. And another. And another.
By half way through the book I was persistently looking back through the pages to remember who characters were and their significance to the story. Some characters also seemed to change names part-way through the book, which didn't help.
Another upshot of this writing style is that by half way through the book the reader (ie. me) hasn't yet come to grips with the overall plot, or direction, that the novel is taking. Any other book you read, you get yourself immersed in the story and by halfway you're starting to guess how things might work out. With this book you spend the first 300 pages digesting dozens and dozens of seemingly unconnected episodes involving disparite characters, and you never really get into the 'flow', making it difficult to care about what's going to happen next. I had to really force myself to carry on at one point.
By the time you've reached the last third of the book these 'episodes' are beginning to merge into a single narrative, which helps enormously.
Overall impression then? Oddly disjointed, sometimes frustratingly episodic (in the first half), but in the end a rich and satisying read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My favourite book (honest!), 1 May 2001
If you like intellectual structured literary exercises read the phone directory (or Salman Rushdie); if however you like rambling magic poetry then read this. The style and story could only be Indian. A monkey steals some jeans from a washing line and ends up typing out a magical story of a past life in British India in a desperate attempt to avoid reincarnation as a crustacean. His judges are an anxious crowd of locals hanging on his every word and a few unseen members of the Hindu pantheon to boot. In return the owner of the jeans recounts some of his vacuous life as a student in the USA which is a telling counterpoint to the richness of the Indian past. Like so much that is Indian, its not the meaning or the analysis that matters, it's the characters, the strangeness, the many small but sharp observations and the evocation of a sense of vast time and space that make it such immense fun to read The book often jumps: from past to present, India to America, comedy to drama. Some won't like this but if you have any sympathy for real storytelling, Bollywood and the many contradictions that are so much a part of India then READ THIS BOOK. Did I like it? No, I loved it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Didn't care what happened, 7 Dec 2009
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I love a good, epic tale and read a lot of Indian fiction so I had high hopes for this novel. However, I really struggled with it. The intertwining stories, one within another within another, were extremely difficult to follow, and like other reviewers, i couldn't remember which character was which. I totally agree that the lack of characterisation made it hard to care what happened, and the rambling, disconnected stories made it very hard work.
The whole premise of the book is that, in order to prevent Yama taking the life of the monkey/Sanjay, a storytelling takes place to an audience (of mostly children) on the condition that they do not lose interest; if more that half the audience becomes bored or restless for 5 minutes during the 2 hour session, the monkey will die. This was particularly implausible since the story was so tedious, hard to follow, and parts of it were highly unsuitable for children (sex, drugs, violence, suicide, swearing). The monkey wouldn't have lasted more than about 10 minutes!
I don't often give up with books but Chandra lost me after about 150 pages. Take him away, Yama.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Confusing, 29 May 2013
When I read the first few pages of the book, I was captivated but the enjoyment ended there. Characters lacked depth. The author seemed to be in an urgency to simply narrate what happened next without giving much thought to continuity. Change of pace is abrupt. All in all, this book is not for me.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A very good read, but not what I was expecting, 6 Sep 2009
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Let me start by saying this is a good read, a very good read in fact, I enjoyed it far more than many novels I've read recently and Chandra is a very talented story teller. But, it's not what I was expecting at all, not from reviews, not from the press, not from the back cover.

Let me summarise what it is not:
1. It is not a 'historical novel'
2. It is not written in a 'contemporary style'
3. It is not 'incredibly original' either
4. It is clearly not intended to be taken literally, much of the 'storyline' and many of the characters are symbolic and allegorical, not literal! The names of historical personalities are used, but this isn't about real people (historical or 'contemporary') any more than 'Animal Farm' is about real farm animals!

In style it reminds me of 'Tales From 1001 Nights', in that it is told as a series of stories, each narrated by a character, who injects some of their own personality and personal desires into the plot. So, for example, the retired teachers tell a story which you'd expect teachers to tell, their young son tells a very different style of story about his drug, sex and road trip experiences as a student in America and so on. This is in many ways rather like 'The Canterbury Tales' as well, and certainly isn't anything new. Chandra's talent here is in making the personalities of the different characters plausible and their stories entertaining enough to keep you engrossed.

As with the Canterbury Tales, or indeed 1001 Nights, none of the stories are to be taken literally, in fact this is pointed out very clearly to the reader early on when Yama (apparently the Hindu God of Death) tells one of the characters off for making his story too literal and true to life.

As far as I can work out the story starts from the perspective that modern India is a very complex society with many different cultures cohabiting alongside each other, sometimes in tolerance, and sometimes not. One of the themes covered is how the West (in this case mostly the British) invented modern India, destroying much in the process, and the harm becoming 'Westernised' has done/is doing to the cultures and peoples of India. It's not done in a particularly negative way, this isn't simply 'Brit bashing', some of the Western characters are treated very sympathetically, the Irish Sailor come Conquerer George Thomas, for example. One of the main characters, the half Rajput half Scottish Robert Skinner (Sikandra as Chandra calls him) is treated as a tragic individual trapped between cultures, and ultimately betrayed by the West, whose side he decides to come down on. His 'brother' Sanjay is the main narrator (albeit reincarnated in the form of an old monkey) and decides to come down on the side of the East, but is also destroyed for his efforts. A message I clearly took away from this novel was that although old India is gone, modern India has the chance to reinvent itself phoenix like from the ashes, but it seems more intent on continuing to destroy itself with religious and cultural divisions instead.

What really made the book for me was Chandra's humour, which is never far from the surface, and his ability to create such rich detail and characterisation. Some people have mentioned that some of the characters aren't appealling to readers. My feeling is that this is entirely deliberate, like the young student, who has become 'too westernised' and is no longer sure of the direction of his life, until quite late on in the book he seems quite angry and devoid of finer emotions, but then that's the point isn't it? And poor Benoit de Boigne, portrayed as a soulless martinet, a killing machine in a lifelong dream - cruel, but at once both fitting and rather humourous (as anyone who has read about the life of this extremely reserved and humourless seeming man will probably agree).

As mentioned above don't expect this to be an accurate historical novel, Chandra changes the chronology of events, the locations, and personalities of a number of famous (and sometimes not so famous) historical people. For example, Walter Reinhardt (AKA Sombre/Somru) appears out of synch and out of character, as it clearly serves Chandra's plot for him to do so. One can't help thinking Chandra fell in love with his idea for the unlikely fate (fictional) of Sombre and therefore simply had to make some changes to reality to fit it all in. There is no reason to imagine many of the other changes weren't made with the same basic motive - telling a good story.

Bearing all this in mind, this is an excellent read on many different levels and Chandra deserves all the praise he received for this as a first novel. It has inspired me to look up and read his other work, I hope that they'll be equally as entertaining.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Half-way house, 26 Jun 2008
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Red Earth and Pouring Rain reads like the first shot of a great writer still finding his voice.

Chandra loosely intertwines two stories: one, set in India, an adventure tale in the style of old epics, and the other a modern American road story. The problem is that one infects the reading of the other; as in the mating of the mare with the donkey, the result is sterile. The earnestness of the fantastic old tale is lost. The Indian gods' appearance in a modern setting feels too much like Rushdie without the philosophy, the American road story like diaspora writing without a motive.

Perhaps Chandra didn't dare write only the epic, where one feels his real interest lay. Maybe his first submission wouldn't have been accepted by publishers without the homage to all that Indian-in-exile-on-a-US-campus stuff. And the book contains interesting writing on Anglo-Indian relations. But if, like me, you enjoyed Sacred Games and are looking for something else to read by the same author, you are better off waiting for his next novel.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 22 Mar 2005
This review is from: Red Earth and Pouring Rain (Paperback)
Vikram Chandra's debut novel has received significant critical acclaim, including the Commonwealth Writers Prize for the Best First Published Book, and a swag of favourable reviews on this website. Despite being interested in Indian culture and history, and being an avid reader of contemporary English language fiction set in South Asia, I regrettably found Chandra's 'Red Earth and Pouring Rain' to be overall one of the most disappointing novels that I've ever read.
'Red Earth and Pouring Rain' is a novel of stories, and stories within stories, paying homage to the magic of storytelling. Stories are delivered to people - and gods in the Hindu pantheon - that come to assemble in the maidan. The most enjoyable sections of this novel are those revolving around developments in this village square as the storytelling unfolds, passages that Chandra intersperses throughout the work that function as transition markers between the sessions of story-telling: regrettably they account for a mere twenty-eight pages - a short story's worth of prose - in a massive tome of 618 pages.
Chandra's novel consists of two broad intertwined narratives glued together by the enjoyable transition scenes: a historical narrative spanning thousands of years of life on the sub-continent, and a contemporary story. The shorter of these, and by far the more enjoyable, is the contemporary story of Abhay, an Indian student returned from the United States. Abhay's adventures also illustrate the (generally negative) effects of the United States, and the West generally, on India's young elite, although perhaps Chandra is a touch heavy-handed in his portrayal of America's moral licentiousness, with two of a mere handful of characters including a female porn star that everybody appears to recognise, and a former centrefold whose allure for Abhay hasn't dimmed since he first set eyes on her in his Indian schooldays.
For the first two hundred pages or so, a confusing cast of characters are introduced and Chandra provides scant character development, little justification for the reader to take any interest in the events portrayed. Accordingly, Chandra fails to establish the essential compact between writer and reader that the words on the page are somehow more than mere words, and as a result my train of thought frequently drifted elsewhere. Primarily I persisted reading the novel on the strength of Abhay's tale and the scenes in the maidan - and a pigheaded resolve not to discard a book partly read! Granted the historical narrative becomes more cohesive with the arrival of brothers Sikander and Chotta, and half-sibling Sanjay - forgive me if this is not the correct familial relationship of the trio as even this is not without confusion - although I still did not identify with any character, and the remaining two-thirds of this lengthy work, with its liberal doses of magic realism, reads like a poor man's Rushdie.
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Red Earth and Pouring Rain
Red Earth and Pouring Rain by Vikram Chandra (Paperback - 3 Jan 1998)
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