Delighted to read, “Tiger Hills” by Sarita Mandanna, a book which received highly favourable reviews considering it was a debut novel. Set in Coorg, one of my favourite parts of India, the book is the story of a family of Coorgs ( yes, the people are /were called “Coorgs” and not “Coorgis” as often they wrongly are) spread over three generations.
There’s a lot of Scarlett O’Hara of “Gone With The Wind” fame in Devi, the central character in the book. The first girl child to be born into her family in 35 years, she is spoiled by all especially her father and her paternal grandmother. Devi is beautiful and knows it only too well. She falls madly in love with Machaiah, famous for being the Tiger Killer and is determined to marry him. She is feisty and determined to get what she wants at any cost. Unknown to her, her childhood buddy Devanna is madly in love with her. He has a torrid time getting ragged as a medical student and in a moment of deep frustration he assaults her and gets her pregnant. Her love for Machu never wanes but she is forced by her family to marry Devanna, much against her wishes, as they fear a scandal. Devi begins to hate Devanna , who at one time, was such a trusted friend.
She has a strange relationship with her son Nanjappa which becomes more complicated when Machaiah dies during the war. His wife had pre-deceased him, ( she had in fact committed suicide) so Devi takes charge of their son, Appu, whom she loves, perhaps more than anyone else in the world. I guess Devi sees a lot of Machu in Appu and favours him all the time even giving him precedence over her own son, Nanjappa.
The descriptions in the book are vivid , the style immaculate and one can’t ask for more in terms of setting up the atmosphere for the book. The frequent use of the Kodava idiom is endearing as is the author’s knowledge of the social structures, customs and norms of social behavior in Coorg during the period from the 1850s to the 1930s.
What disappointed me was the plot. I didn’t like the end, especially the epilogue, not because I believe every book should have a fairly tale like “The Good Guy Wins” kind of end, but because the re-emergence of Nanjappa was far too abrupt for my liking. It was as if this had been foisted upon the reader like an after thought with no hint of any kind whatsoever that he may not have died after all. Also, I found some of the parts of the nearly 500 pages book tended to drift like the stories associated with Appu’s visit to Germany in the 1930s which had no relevance to furthering the plot, likewise some parts of the old priest’s life and reminiscences became tedious towards the end.
Overall a good read and I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for good writing set in India. Congratulations to Ms. Mandanna for this book because I know how difficult it is to write such a long story, spanning a few generations, with all its twists and turns. I look forward to reading more of her books.