River of Gods by Ian McDonald
Jacket Blurb: As Mother India
approaches her centenary, nine people are going about their business-a
gangster, a cop, his wife, a politician, a stand-up comic, a set
designer, a journalist, a scientist, and a dropout. And so is Aj-the
waif, the mind reader, the prophet-when she one day finds a man who
wants to stay hidden.
In the next few weeks, they will all be swept together to decide the fate of the nation.
of Gods teems with the life of a country choked with peoples and
cultures-one and a half billion people, twelve semi-independent nations,
nine million gods. Ian McDonald has written the great Indian novel of
the new millennium, in which a war is fought, a love betrayed, a message
from a different world decoded, as the great river Ganges flows on.
I loved this book. It had me hooked from the first chapters and reading any opportunity I could get. Like India, the plot is big, the characters numerous. The author did a good job of alternating between points of view and notifying the reader of the new viewpoint with the chapter titles. I will admit, not infrequently I needed something more than a name to remind me which character was up next, as it might have been 50 pages or so since I last 'visited' them.
I thought the Indian setting was fantastic - a non-WASP country, not the US, not England, Europe, not Russia. Someplace exotic and complex, with hierarchy's of Gods and steeped in thousands of years of traditions that most Westerners can't even begin to fathom or comprehend. The Ghats of Varanasi was a good example, especially well done as seen through the eyes of Vishram. Vishram attended a funeral in Scotland and was appalled at the cremation being hidden from all eyes, because in India, the funeral pyres are on the Gandi Devi, open so the ashes can blow away for rebirth and renewal and the families and friends are witness to that cycle. Or Thomas Lull, noting that Westerners are afraid of trains, because they can't see where the engine is going, and trains symbolize and ending, or death and are thus little used in Western worlds. Where in India, the train is the journey, not the destination, to be able to sit and watch the world go by, knowing the destination is not the goal.
I also thought tying in the pending monsoon with the civil unrest and each person's personal unrest was well executed and nicely conveyed the growing tension an unease. The unrest, the discord, the discontent was well paced and added to the allure of the book.
Add to all of this, a strange and fascinating background of an Indian "soapi" called Town and Country, where the actors are aeai's and nothing is really real but it seems as it is and everyone in India follows this soapi like a second religion. It's so subtly woven into everything.
I also think, as everything came to the conclusion, there was a bit of karma happening, that what comes around, goes around. It's one more undercurrent to everything else happening, and I might be reading more into this than there really is. A karma aspect would be another tie-in with the Indian setting.
My main complaint with the book was the sex. I don't like sex in my scifi. It seemed like the sexuality in the book was more gratuitous and 'shocking' and really didn't add much to the over all story. It didn't seem to fit.
Overall, an absolutely brilliant read.
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