The Siege of Krishnapur
by J.G. Farrell
“Things are not yet perfect, of course,’ sighed the Collector. ‘All the same, I should go so far as to say that in the long run a superior civilization such as ours is irresistible. By combining our advances in science and in morality we have so obviously found the best way of doing things. Truth cannot be resisted! Er, that’s to say, not successfully,’ the Collector added as a round shot struck the corner of the roof and toppled one of the pillars of the verandah” ― J.G. Farrell
Set in India, 1857, during the Great Mutiny, this novel by J. G. Farrell is both a mighty work of historical fiction and a humane study of man. Farrell has the ability to create a world filled with flawed but often sympathetic characters and that sets this novel apart from typical historical fare. He also underlays the action both subtly and with irony depicting the contrast between the civilization of science and rationality, represented by the Great Exhibition of 1851 and its' Crystal Palace, with the culture of India as seen through the eyes of their British overlords; who at this time are from the British East India Company. It is this presentation of the attitudes of the British in India that makes this as much a challenging novel of ideas as it is an historical drama.
The action takes place during the period of unrest that leads to the end of the control of the Company with battle sequences during the siege by the Sepoys that are riveting, but do not detract from more abstract discussions of theology, philosophy and medicine. Ultimately the British in Krishnapur are faced with a battle for their lives against multiple attackers; disease in the form of Cholera, starvation and the Sepoys. All the while, the novel seems to overflow with wit, tenderness, satire and the whole of humanity. As told in a very readable style with both irony and humor by J. G. Farrell this is one of the best historical novels I have had the pleasure to read.
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