River of Ink Hardcover – 28 Jan 2016
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An extraordinary debut . Paul M.M. Cooper is writer of real talent . River of Ink is what historical fiction should be: immersive, illuminating and captivating (The Times)
Potent, beautiful and wholly absorbing, Cooper's portrait of a reluctant revolutionary had me in thrall from its first chapter. A wonderful, memorable debut (Madeline Miller, author of the Orange Prize-winning The Song of Achilles)
Cooper endows his work with persuasive historical accuracy and detail, but the "juice" of his own work is the intensely poetic quality of his prose . There is enough astonishing quality in this first novel for us to hope that Cooper will soon produce another (Independent)
It isn't easy to write about the past with both a hesitant watchfulness and a calm assurance, to make it vivid and strange and yet also, in a fundamental way, ours, but that's exactly what Paul Cooper has achieved - with considerable aplomb - in River of Ink (Amit Chaudhuri, author of Odysseus Abroad)
Masterly . A powerful and timely fable about freedom, resistance and the secret might of the weak (Financial Times)
A striking first novel from an author with a rare skill for deploying heavy research with a light touch, for revelling in the seductive possibilities of style without losing sight of narrative drive, and for making profound points while also delivering first-rate entertainment. Paul M.M Cooper's own pen is certainly a formidable weapon, and it will be exciting to see him wield it again in years to come (Asian Review)
In his first novel, Cooper vividly reconstructs a long-buried society and, creates in Asanka - a coward reluctantly forced into acts of courage - a likeable, multifaceted narrator (Sunday Times)
A highly accomplished debut: Cooper's writing glides from moments of grace and beauty to pure horror in this enthralling novel (Mahesh Rao, author of The Smoke is Rising)
River of Ink is an outstanding novel from a very talented debut author ... Cooper's name has the potential to become synonymous with historical literature ... He has done something which all good authors must do: he has written a novel that transcends the page and continues to exist in mind of the reader (New Welsh Review)
An epic historical adventure set in a violent, exotic land, River of Ink is a dazzlingly imaginative story of language, love and powerSee all Product description
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Blood. Already a veiled hint of what is to come in the book…..
Sri Lanka of the 13th Century. Kalingha Magha, the ruthless despot, arrives on Lanka’s shores and deposes the presiding ruler, changing the lives of all who live there, including Asanka, the court poet. The book brims with mysticism and symbolism, and opens with the twittering mynah birds in the city of Polonnaruwa – these are birds are deemed to be ‘brimming with happiness‘ but as the story unfolds, life is anything but happy.
Asanka is instructed by Magha to translate the ancient Sanskrit Shishupala Vadha, with the intention that it will be circulated amongst the populace and have a civilising effect, whilst aiding their subjugation. But Asanka’s love for Sarasi motivates him to insert subversive texts, skilfully done. Craftily Magha is depicted as the evil character. The pen of course is mightier than the sword – “if you can write, you can do anything”.
The exotic location magically comes to life in the hands of this talented author, the heat and dust, the smells of old palm leaves on the roofs, and the visual descriptions leave the reader reeling with colour, smell and feel of a city, whose place in Sri Lankan history dwindled from 1255. The author has clearly carried out extensive research into the period and into the life of a scribe – he details the kinds of oils used – dummala and kakuna oils – to mix the inks for writing; and that dried fruits skins were lit to keep evening insects away….
The quality of writing is elegant, lyrical and well crafted, full of mystical history, lore and legend…
Over on our blog we talk to the author about writing, Sri Lanka and more: (...)
the populace, quashing any thoughts of rebellion. But in order to stay alive and protect the one he loves, Asanka finds himself reluctantly sailing down a river of ink towards revolt.
Taking the form of Asanka’s written account of events for Sarasi, River of Ink is not onlyan interesting exploration of the maxim ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’, but a beautiful evocation of another time, place and culture. The city of Polonnaruwa and its environs – from
the Palace and its gardens, with their pools and pavilions, the city itself with its parks,markets, villas and temples, to the surrounding countryside and jungle – are rendered in all their sensory glory. In some cases, this would make the prose too rich but Cooper succeeds in deftly painting each detail, so sumptuousness is built by accumulation but the prose remains clear.
Where Cooper also succeeds is in the portrayal of the story’s three major players: Asanka,Sarasi – palace maid and Asanka’s mistress – and the evil King Magha. A beguiling mix of sincerity, bravery and mystery, Sarasi herself could have been the heroine of her own folktale – the palace maid who wanted to tell stories – and it’s easy to see why Asanka would love her. But she also has agency, preventing her from being merely an object of desire or a stereotype.
Good tyrants are hard to write; how does one portray the character’s villainy without descending into pantomime? Cooper manages it with Magha by – after his initial appearance – showing us, not the atrocities committed in his name, but their effects upon the people,
ensuring that his interactions with Asanka remain fraught with suspense, as there is always the chance that this seemingly charming figure could order him killed.
And lastly, we come to Asanka himself. An adulterer and self-confessed coward, Asanka may be a problematic character for those who prefer the protagonists of these types of stories to be more traditionally heroic, but, in this case, these flaws serve to make him a more realistic and therefore more and empathetic interesting character. After all, I’m sure we’d all like to think that, if we were in the same position, we’d stand up for ourselves and those around us, but what are the chances that, in actuality, we would keep our heads down to avoid notice, compromising our ideals but with a better chance of staying alive. Consequently, Asanka has the most growth as a character but he never quite makes the complete transition to fearless revolutionary, always tempered by an understandable reluctance that serves to make his occasional bout of heroic bravery all the more powerful.
The story moves at a good pace, stately but not slow, interspersed with extracts written in the voices of the characters from the story of Shishupal, really bringing not only the story itself, but the culture, to life, and ending on a poignant note of such bittersweet tenderness it
Paul M. M. Cooper is definitely an author to watch and I, for one, will await his next book with eager interest.
Asanka's tale is one of drama, romance, subertfuge, tension and tragedy. The author melds these themes successfully to produce a novel that deserves the wonderful critical reception without doubt. The beautiful similes and depictions of the island are an excellent counterpart to the life of our protagonist, elevating this already fantastic story to further heights.
A true joy to read, I cannot wait for further books from the brilliant talent.
A great read, recommended!