The Siege of Krishnapur by J.G. Farrell
By Alix Wilber
"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 recognize 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
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
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. Quite
simply, this is a splendid novel.
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"I thought this novel was ingenious. Not only does JG Farrell have a fantastic grasp of chemistry and of the weapondry used at the time. But his grasp of how the different classes thought at the time was awesome."
"I was a lethargic 24 year old with almost zero qualifications from school when I read this book as part of a distance learning A Level course. Reading it was a course of customised ECG therapy, I became sucked into a new life full of potentially vivid colours. The characters, the humour, the period, the evocative detail were explosive and it remains a defininig moment for me - 14/5 years on."
"I have just finished this excellent book, the best thing I've read since'the God of Small Things'. Farrell captures the spirit of the times perfectly, he combines a compelling narrative with characters the reader comes to care about. Although often darkly realist, Farrell's unceasing wit had me laughing out loud even as I could smell the stench of putrifying bodies. So many episodes, Chloe, the Magistrate, the Padre, Harry and Fleury scraping Lucy's body with covers from the Bible... brilliant, I can hardly wait to read it again."