Too much too ask

The Circle of Reason is Amitav Ghosh’s fourth book that I have read. Given its unique title, it once topped my to-be-read list by the author. It took me just about two weeks to finish reading it thanks to simple language and wonderful, incredible ideas of the book. Instead of being satisfied after reading the book, all I have right now in my mind is a bunch of questions, which only Mr. Ghosh, who will be able to answer it. Compared to the first three of his novels that I have read — The Glass Palace, Sea of Poppies, and The Hungry TideThe Circle of Reason leaves me clueless on few things. If you happen to have read the book, or at least waste your time by reading my synopsis, you’ll get my points.

1. About The Life of Pasteur, germs, intellectual debates on Reason

Louis Pasteur, a French microbiologist, sheds some lights to the core issue of the book. Balaram and Gopal, then later Alu adopts him as their father of Reason. They implement what they have read in the book to real life. Specially for Balaram, the book turns him out to be a kind of freak-admirer-weird fan of science thus prompts him to lead a campaign on clean underwear when he is still at the college then carbolic acid campaign in Lalpukur. Clean society starts from clean people, free from germs. This, too, drives Alu to wage war on capitalism and dirty things in the Ras, al-Ghazira. So many highly-thought debates in conversations between Balaram and Gopal that I think I don’t really comprehend them well even they are written in simple words. I wonder why Mr. Ghosh selects this topic, anyway, for this seems loosely attached with the finale of the book. I still sense a kind of small holes needed to be filled in.

2. Strange personality of the main character

Not only because Alu is physically strange, Mr. Ghosh also presents his not-so-ordinary character. First, Alu speaks so little. I have enjoyed reading many leading characters, and Alu is the first kind of very introvert character. He is so absorbed in his silence. He studies in his hearts. It feels like he lives the life in his mind only. But his modesty, honesty, and kindness earns respects from many people. I think Mr. Ghosh lacks of “completing Alu’s character development”. It’s a bit too late when Mr. Ghosh gives glimpse on Alu’s changing personality shown by his decision to return  The Life of Pasteur to Verma and admits he dislikes it. He is about to distance himself from his uncle’s shadows. The death of Kulfi makes him as a reborn person.  But as the novel stops, I don’t see many changes in Alu’s personality. I’d love to read how he becomes extrovert or speaks more about himself rather than takes on what other people say. As he grows older, he should have spoken more. If Mr. Ghosh continues this story, which seems far from realization, I’d love to see him changing.

3. Friendship among the outcasts

I think close ties among strangers is one of the powerful elements in this book, which later colors Sea of Poppies, Mr. Ghosh’s best-selling novel. The fact that the author creates al-Ghazira as a melting plot is unique in a way that friendship is easily binding regardless one’s past stories. As long as they have common goals, backgrounds are forgotten. Just look at how Alu wins the hearts of so many people without they ask for his reasons on why policemen raid the Star. A blend of cultures, languages, origins, marital status, is what makes the book is so colorful.

4. Never underestimate ridiculous ideas

Through Balaram’s weird personality, Mr. Ghosh shows me how intelligence sometimes comes in ridiculous ways of saying. As I stated before, look at how Balaram starts a campaign on wearing clean underwear and set up a school in a very modest plan. If you read the book, you’ll see how his friends mock and laugh at his ideas then shut their own mouths once they are fruitful. Even his initiatives to get Alu a weaving lesson proves to fruition as he is able to help him financing the school.

  1. Jokes and many jokes

The first one third part of the novel gives me so much pleasure. That’s why I read this book so quickly as I look forward to enjoy jokes it provides. I am so happy reading this book, and hope you will, too. One of the most memorable scenes that burst me into laughter is when Bhudeb Roy makes use the insurance money from his damaged school to buy, among others, some white T-shirts to his five sons. Bhudeb’s unemployed peers, who are gossiping under a banyan tree, can only murmur their envy when they look at the shiny shirts. I can imagine how miserable their faces are.


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