Review: The Great Indian Novel by Shashi Tharoor

January 8, 2014

Author: Shashi Tharoor
Publisher: Arcade Publishing
Year: 1993
ISBN: 9781559701945
Rating: ★★★★☆
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This is one of those rare novels that lives up to its name. The satire inherent in the title pervades the pages of the book, which is a fictional account of two of the most important components of Indian history/mythology- the Mahabharat and British-Indian politics. Conceptually, the mind boggles at the fusion of two such entities, but Tharoor manages to reconcile them, and how!

Well-recognized characters are washed off their colors, repainted and presented again. And this time, the reader ends up being stunned by the sheer ingenuity, and sometimes, the sheer audacity of the author. For it requires audacity to portray the gods and demi-gods of India in a humane light, which is what Tharoor has done with this work.

After a point though, my surprise and disbelief changed to avid interest to see how the two plots (such beloved, well known tales drilled into us from childhood) would flow alongside each other. I must say that I was satisfied with the result; the overall pace didn’t slacken, the twists and turns were introduced at the right places and yet, there was the same plot that we’d read about in textbooks.

There IS one crucial difference though- after I read The Great Indian Novel, I found myself thinking of the differences in how some of the principal characters were portrayed. The sage Ved Vyas has been used as a medium to narrate the entire story; and it’s interesting to see how opinions can change with a shift in perspective. Simply put, he’s able to give us a peek into how circumstances and emotions can influence people and their decisions.

If you’re planning to take up this book, you’ll be scandalized, surprised and most importantly, forced to rethink your version of history. Fanciful and sometimes contrary though his writing is, Tharoor manages to make his point- the India we see today has been through cycles of power, and we might have more in common with the legends of our yore than previously thought. Give this one a read if you’re able to take your history with a pinch of salt.


Janani Hariharan
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Janani Hariharan

Editor and Writer at IndiaBookStore
Wanderer, nature freak and lover of all things science-y. Certified devourer of all printed matter.
Janani Hariharan
Find me at

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