NO REFUGE IN THE RU­INED CITY

India Today - - REVIEW - —Man­jula Padmanabhan

The pro­tag­o­nists are dam­aged chil­dren, starv­ing and scroung­ing amidst the rub­ble of a ru­ined city. Noth­ing is clear at the out­set of this sci­ence fic­tion novel ex­cept that some sort of un­holy con­flict cen­tred upon Cey­lon has pro­duced tribes of feral young­sters.

Wait: Cey­lon?

Yes. Be­cause the Bri­tish Em­pire is still in­tact, China never be­came Com­mu­nist and be­cause this is 2033 and his­tory as we know it is just an­other mi­rage in the reader’s mind. Even the lit­tle chil­dren who seem so pa­thetic in the open­ing pages are not what they seem. The Silent Girl for in­stance, is a vi­cious lit­tle war­rior. She wields a wooden spear and can only speak via a cas­sette player she uses in place of a voice. She be­friends a boy named ‘the Pissa’, a word which, ac­cord­ing to the in­ter­net, means ‘crazy’. To­gether, these two scale a tow­er­ing moun­tain of garbage, and fight their way into a refuge called Half­way House. Ex­cept it’s not a refuge at all and the man who runs it is to be feared rather than trusted.

Wi­jer­atne backs his way into this tale of hor­ror and degra­da­tion with a se­ries of nested rev­e­la­tions, in­volv­ing the rul­ing élite of Cey­lon and their pale-skinned, Cau­casian ad­min­is­tra­tors. He holds our at­ten­tion by con­ceal­ing the true scale of the be­trayal tick­ing at the heart of the story un­til well past the mid-point. Once the mys­tery is re­vealed how­ever, the fi­nal third of the book set­tles into pre­dictabil­ity. There’s a clunky court scene, some amus­ing car­i­ca­tures and a sari-clad hero­ine is in­tro­duced be­fore the story comes to an open-ended con­clu­sion. This book is, ac­cord­ing to the front-cover sticker, the first of what will be the Com­mon­wealth Em­pire tril­ogy.

While the plot is mildly in­no­va­tive in terms of sci­ence fic­tion, what makes the novel in­ter­est­ing and strangely poignant is its set­ting. The de­pic­tion of lush, beau­ti­ful Cey­lon/Sri Lanka as the site of ex­treme dev­as­ta­tion is an ab­so­lute per­ver­sion of re­al­ity. This is the kind of fu­ture we must hope will never come to pass.”

THE IN­HU­MAN RACE by Yud­han­jaya Wi­jer­atne HARPERCOLLINS`299; 200 pages

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