The Assassinations | Book Review
The Assassinations – A Novel of 1984 – Book Review
Book: The Assassinations
Author: Vikram Kapur
Reviewed By: Manas Mukul
Publisher: Speaking Tiger (10 Nov 2017)
Pages: 224 (Paperback)
Price: 299 INR
My rating: 3.5/5
In the late seventies and early eighties, militancy was on the rise in Punjab. It reached its peak in 1984 which forced the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to carry out Operation Blue Star. The operation required Indian military action on the holy site of Sikhs, Harmandir Sahib or popularly known as The Golden Temple. The events that followed lead to the assassination of the PM by her Sikh security guards, which was followed by what usually happens around such an event – communal riots. And like every riot and war, there are common lives that end up getting devastated.
Vikram Kapur’s The Assassinations – A Novel of 1984 is a fictitious tale based around Operation Blue Star and how the lives of millions changed after the unfortunate events. I would like to express gratitude towards ‘Writersmelon’ for considering me for this book review.
About the Author
Vikram Kapur is the author of two novels, Time is a Fire and The Wages of Life, as well as the editor of an anthology of short fiction and nonfiction on the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 called 1984 in Memory and Imagination. His work has been published widely in India and abroad. His short stories have been shortlisted for major international prizes including, among others, the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. He is currently an associate professor of English at Shiv Nadar University. His website is www.vikramkapur.com
The cover of the book feels like an abstract painting with brush strokes in red with a testimonial from Hartosh Singh Bal. The title couldn’t have been more apt and direct as the novel revolves around not one but several assassinations. The back cover also has a small blurb along with another testimonial.
Most of the people who have lived through that era know about real-life events and riots around the assassination of Mrs. Gandhi. The plot of this book is set around the neighbourhoods of Delhi.
What begins as a simple love story of a Hindu girl, Deepa, falling in love with a son of a Sikh refugee, Prem Kohli, soon takes tumultuous turns post the assassination and the riots. For me, this is not only a story about two central characters but about two families and their fate and how everything changes in an aftermath of an event like Blue Star followed by the assassination of the PM.
The book is divided into four parts – 31st October 1984, Before, After and Delhi 2004, which are self-explanatory from the title itself. Each section has smaller chapters, which I liked and that definitely aided in the pace of the book.
He masterfully blends in topics like insecurities of the Indian middle class, interfaith marriages, the class divide, what is the human cost of the massacre and the turbulence of those times. Vikram has recreated the Delhi of the 80s with great sincerity and one can visualise with ease as if moving scene by scene in the narrative along with the characters.
Each character has been given due space and one of the best aspects is how they have transformed through the course of the book. One empathises with the characters after understanding what they are going through and for a moment some unlawful acts begin to seem justified. The aesthetics have been described with such detail that the story appears to be non-fiction.
The book has linear storytelling and it doesn’t travel to and fro in chronological order, which aids in the fluid pace and lucid style of writing. Vikram does not unnecessarily politicise the topic and become preachy but focuses mostly on the lives of the members of the two families. With around only 210 pages, crisp writing and a good vocabulary, this is a fast read and you will seldom lose interest in the narrative. The story stays with you long after you have finished the book and as a writer that is what one should strive for.
The writer with his storytelling craft leaves little scope to point out flaws in my opinion. The ending could have been a little better for the average Indian readers’ liking which mostly prefers happy endings (Not a spoiler).
The Assassinations – A Novel of 1984 by Vikram Kapur skillfully echoes the pain and sufferings of human lives with great sensitivity. He depicts how ordinary lives bear the brunt of such barbaric events and how these lives are altered forever because of the forces of history. I am going with three and a half stars for Vikram Kapur’s The Assassinations – A Novel of 1984. If you like melancholic stories with a tinge of history, do pick this one up.
Manas ‘Sameer’ Mukul
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