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Friday, September 30, 2016

The Siege of Krishnapur (1973) by J.G. Farrell


Book Review
The Siege of Krishnapur (1973)
 by J.G. Farrell

  The Siege of Krishnapur is the second of the three books in his Empire trilogy.  The first book, Troubles, focused on Ireland during the Irish War of Independence between 1919 and 1922.  Farrell, of Anglo-Irish ancestry, was writing fairly close to home in Troubles.   For The Siege of Krishnapur, Farrell shifts the stage to mid 19th century India under British control.  Although fictional, Krisnapur is based on real life incidents like the siege of Lucknow and Kanpur.

  Readers of Troubles will see similarities between Major Brendan Archer, the primary protagonist of Troubles and Fleury, the poetical young man at the center of Krishnapur.  Both seem put-out by the historic events swirling around them, starting indifferent to their own fate and gradually developing what might be called a "historical consciousness."   The analog of Edward Spencer, the owner of the Majestic Hotel in Troubles is "The Collector," the chief administrator for the Krishnapur governmental department under Siege, and the man in charge after the General expires at the end of the first act.

  Fans of colonial fiction and imperialism will enjoy Krishnapur as much as critics and audiences enjoyed it when it was published in 1973.  It won the Booker Award, meaning that both Troubles and Krishnapur would eventually be Booker winners.   It's fair to observe that the subject matter is distant for your average American college graduate.  Unless you have a very specific interest in mid 19th century English colonialism, many of the references are likely to fly overhead.  I found myself often punching references into google as I read.  That testifies to the impressive level of detail in a book written in the 1970's about events half a world away in the mid 19th century. In fact, a reader who didn't know better might think that Krishnapur was written much closer in time to actual events than it actually was.

  This is a theme of classics of mid to late 20th century fiction: The ability to "time-travel" back to prior periods of literature and evoke them decades into the future. Krishnapur and Troubles share this with early works of meta-fiction like Gravity's Rainbow, but that book was written in 1973 about World War II, and this book was written in the same year about 1845.

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