WRITING STYLE: 5/5
ENTERTAINMENT QUOTIENT: 4.5/5
One of my bookish resolutions of 2018 is to read at least 10 award-winning books and to achieve this goal, I plan to read both national and international books. Mamang Dai’s The Black Hill falls into this category as it was the winner of the prestigious Sahitya Academy Award for writing in English in 2017. It is a historical fiction which is inspired by true recorded events that occurred in the mid-19th century Arunachal Pradesh.
The story of a lost world
The story of The Black Hill takes us back in time to Arunachal Pradesh of the 1840s and 1850s. Here, in this land, which is yet untouched by the British and left alone by the Chinese authority in Tibet, arrives a French pastor, Father Nicolas Krick to spread the word of his Lord, and perhaps establish a mission in Southern Tibet. Highly ambitious and deeply religious, he is not someone who is easily deterred by unfamiliar terrains and unwelcoming tribals.
On the other hand, belonging to the Abor tribe of Mebo village, Gimur is a feisty young lady. Carefree and bold, she doesn’t care much for social taboos and dictates; she does what she likes. However, times are changing and fear of the imminent arrival of the British hangs heavy in the air. Until now, the British had carefully avoided their territories but for how long will it be the same?
As many tribal villages come to terms with the changing realities of their time, Gimur comes across Kajinsha – a brave young man from another tribe. They fall in love and decide to elope. But the happiness which once seemed so close will continue to be elusive. In a landscape that can be both evil and serene, and a time which ominously hints towards an imminent war, Kajinsha, Gimur and Krick will find their paths colliding not once but many times.
An overzealous priest, a headstrong girl and a simple tribal
The characters of are what make The Black Hill such a beautiful read. On one hand is the shy but feisty girl Gimur who goes against her tribe and breaks all taboos to marry the love of her life.
On the other hand is Kajinsha who is young and brave but does not seek war. He wishes to unite all tribes against the British in order to protect their land and their ways. He realizes the futility of his mission because it is impossible to bring together rival tribes and yet he is determined to do whatever it takes to keep the “White Men” out of their land.
Father Nicolas Krick is another determined and brave soul who wants to spread the light of his Lord in the mystic land of Tibet. His eyes are set on Tibet and there is nobody who can stop him. But before Tibet, he will have to brave the difficult terrains and hostile tribals of Arunachal Pradesh.
All these characters who are so unique and yet so connected, leave a deep impact on the reader and are a pleasure to read about.
Writing that delights the mind
The way the story is told doesn’t make you realise that it is a historical fiction. It is only in the author’s words and the last couple of pages that you realize that there is some history in this fiction. Mamang Dai’s writing beautifully portrays the plight of its characters. It’s a great insight into how colonialism forever changed the lives of people in and around its colonies. Though The Black Hill cannot be termed as a fast-paced read, by no means it’s a dull read. Every chapter is beautiful and interesting.
A delicate ending
The book has a delicate ending. There is an underlying tone of gloom throughout the story but this becomes more pronounced towards the end. It is indeed a thought-provoking story – even the end is beautifully mapped and worded and gives the reader something to think about.
An exquisite read
Overall, the book is an extraordinary read. Just the fact that the story is so different and diverse in terms of the setting, plot and characters should be enough reason to pick this book up. For those of you, who still need convincing – read it because it is an excellent piece of fiction and because it is the winner of the coveted Sahitya Academy Award.
Read the book if
You should definitely read this book if you really want to know what a good piece of fiction reads like. If you are interested in reading notable English works by Indian authors, then this book should definitely be on your TBR (To Be Read) list.
Skip the book if
Skip the book if you don’t like historical fictions or if you can’t digest gloomy, and sometimes slow reads.
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