The Siege Of Krishnapur Paperback – 1 Jul 1996
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"The first sign of trouble at Krishnapur came with a mysterious distribution of chapatis, made of coarse flour and about the size and thickness of a biscuit; towards the end of February 1857, they swept the countryside like an epidemic."Students of history will recognise 1857 as the year of the Sepoy rebellion in India--an uprising of native soldiers against the British, brought on by Hindu and Muslim recruits' belief that the rifle cartridges with which they were provided had been greased with pig or cow fat. This seminal event in Anglo-Indian relations provides the backdrop for J.G. Farrell's Booker Prize- winning exploration of race, culture and class, The Siege of Krishnapur.
Like the mysteriously appearing chapatis, life in British India seems, on the surface, innocuous enough. Farrell introduces us gradually to a large cast of characters as he paints a vivid portrait of the Victorians' daily routines that are accompanied by heat, boredom, class-consciousness and the pursuit of genteel pastimes intended for cooler climates. Even the siege begins slowly, with disquieting news of massacres in cities far away. When Krishnapur itself is finally attacked, the Europeans withdraw inside the grounds of the Residency where very soon conditions begin to deteriorate: food and water run out, disease is rampant, people begin to go a little mad. Soon the very proper British are reduced to eating insects and consorting across class lines. Farrell's descriptions of life inside the Residency are simultaneously horrifying and blackly humorous. The siege, for example, is conducted under the avid eyes of the local populace, who clearly anticipate an enjoyable massacre and thus arrive every morning laden with picnic lunches (plainly visible to the starving Europeans). By turns witty and compassionate, The Siege of Krishnapur comprises the best of all fictional worlds: unforgettable characters, an epic adventure and at its heart a cultural clash for the ages. --Alix Wilber
While I can't categorically state it's the best book ever, I find it hard to think of one that I prefer. One that does more as a work of fiction, or that says more about our flawed humanity . . . The Siege of Krishnapur is a superb portrayal of physical horrors and psychological fallout . . . [It] is wonderfully funny, written with devastating wit and rambunctious humanity. I can't praise it enough - and I can't push it enough (Sam Jordison Guardian)
Inspired, funny but ultimately tragic look at colonialism in India. It has an unusual exuberance (Mariella Frostrup)
For a novel to be witty is one thing, to tell a good story is another, to be serious is yet another, but to be all three is surely enough to make it a masterpiece (New Statesman)
A novel of quite outstanding quality (The Times)
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Top Customer Reviews
While the 'serious' setting might suggest otherwise, the book is extraordinarily gripping, and riddled with grim humour, believable, interesting characters and an admirable insight into the contemporary science and medicine (subjects diverse as the treatment of cholera, phrenology and military tactics are discussed at length, without ever detouring into tedious longeurs). It's cliche, but I genuinely couldn't put the book down; at parts I found myself laughing out loud and shaking my head in disbelief. So realistically is the siege brought to life that you can almost smell the rotting flesh of its victims and hear the crash of the defending cannons. It's easy to see why this was nominated for the Best of Bookers and is held in such high esteem thirty-odd years after its publication, yet I'd recommend it heartily to readers of all levels and abilities.
This is really a most extraordinary book. I may perhaps not read it as people born and bred in England (to them Krishnapur is probably a household-name and a legendary part of their national history) but in fact this matters little. `The siege of Krishnapur' is much much more than a book about the siege of that particular place. The entire story is told from the point of view of a number of the English residents, while the sepoys are merely present as a part of the setting (almost as the summer heat, the monsoon rains, the bugs, ...). And it is in the description of these characters and their thoughts and feelings that this book surpasses all others I've read. Mr. Hopkins (the Collector), Mr. Willoughby (the Magistrate), George Fleury, Harry Dunstable, the Padre, and many more, will impress themselves upon you as if you know them in the flesh.
Their near-sighted views of most everything (the `civilizing' influence of British rule over India and science's progress, the roles of men versus women), their stubborn adherence to `proper' conduct and society's rules and regulations ever after 3 months of siege, the proverbial British phlegm in the face of desperate odds, it is all described with such an incomparable style and vocabulary to make these people both tragic, heroic, and - oddest perhaps of all - at times extremely humorous.
One of the best books I've read in years.
J.G. Farrell won the 1973 Booker Prize for The Siege of Krishnapur, and 40 years on this remains an excellent and interesting read.
Loosely based around the siege of the Residency at Lucknow, whose shot-up buildings can still be viewed today, Farrell describes the events as seen through the eyes of various characters who wound up in the living hell of the siege. Whilst the squalor is described, this is not the chief focus of the novel. Instead, he demonstrates how each character's philosophy of life, by which they lived until they came under siege, gradually unravels: for one it is Christianity that falls, for another the belief in progress, for another still it is faith in science. In some cases, it simply can't be put back together, even after the siege, and the goals of the British, spreading civilisation and the arts, are shown up to be hollow.
And this is where the book transcends being an account, however gripping, of a siege and moves towards something much more potent, which challenges you now and your own views about what you spend your life doing.
Despite everything I have said above about how deeply challenging this book is, it's also a really easy read, full of humour: perhaps that's what makes the final challenge so disarmingly potent.
This is a brilliant book, but it's not the one you want if you want a straight account of the Mutiny: for that try Christopher Hill's "The Great Mutiny".
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A gift for a friend and favourite book which, like his others, deals with epic themes on a very intimate scale.Published 1 month ago by SarahReedMHR
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and suspect that I would have given it 5 stars had it been an "undiscovered gem", or something that I felt I needed to tell others... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Jebelgoat
This novel won the Booker prize in 1973, so I'm a bit late catching up with it.
Mr Farrell sets his novel in 1857, the year of the Indian Mutiny, in the imaginary... Read more
A very interesting book and an easy one to read. Gives insight into Victorian British values and is thought provoking.Published 8 months ago by Amazon Customer
… is one of the themes of JG Farrell’s Booker Prize winning novel, as indicated by Pankaj Mishra in the introduction. But there were numerous other themes that also resonated. Read morePublished 9 months ago by John P. Jones III
Perhaps my 'Desert Island' novel. It is superb in its pacing, characterisation and clear sense of place and time. Read morePublished 9 months ago by RichTea