Book review: 'The Secret Of The Nagas'

Sunday, 4 September 2011 - 8:00am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

The Secret Of The Nagas is impressive in its conception. But it is executed poorly

Book: The Secret Of The Nagas

Author: Amish Tripathi
l Westland
l 396 pages
l Rs295

Amish Tripathi’s Immortals Of Meluha evoked two distinct reactions from this reviewer: lots of eye-rolling at the amateur writing, but also an irrepressible urge to keep turning the pages.

So when the second book in the Shiva Trilogy, The Secret Of The Nagas, arrived in all its glossy, muscle-rippling, fang-baring glory, much the same was expected. And Amish, as he likes to be called, delivers spectacularly — on both counts.

We’re thrust into the narrative, mid-action, exactly from where the first book ended. And the breathless pace of the action hardly ever lets up. Shiva, the Tibetan warrior, and his wife Sati chase the mysteriously-hooded Nagas all across ancient India to find their secret.

There are more twists and turns than in a Gordian knot, and at least two revelations of the ‘Luke-I-am-your-father’ variety.

The Secret Of The Nagas is impressive in its conception. But it is executed poorly. And it really rankles, because there is so much scope for flair, adventure and wonder in the world Tripathi has imagined.

Take this description of a sun rise on the Ganga: “The sun had just risen over the Ganga, tinting it a stunning orange.” It evokes a particularly unimaginative scribble by a six-year-old at best. When Shiva enters the impenetrable city of Branga, this is how Tripathi describes the buildings and temples. “…their buildings were superbly built and maintained, while their temples were lofty and grand.”

What kind of buildings? What were they made of? What kind of feeling did they inspire in Shiva who had entered this strange city for the first time? There’s no description beyond the absolutely pedestrian. Tripathi does not, or cannot, use words to evoke, with the result that there is very little emotional response to his words on page.

There’s also a more fundamental problem with Tripathi’s writing. These two books aspire to meditate on larger philosophical matters such as the function of government, the nature of evil, etc.

But instead of playing out his theses through the narrative, Tripathi contrives a situation where a sage suddenly has a long pedantic dialogue with Shiva, giving him what is essentially ‘gyaan’. This not only takes away from the narrative flow but also spells out in explicit terms what you might have had a lot of fun discovering or interpreting for yourself.

The Secret... is not a bad book. The plot holds your attention and the story races along, but the writing veers between the pedestrian and the ridiculous. Tripathi is an excellent story-teller. But he is a poor writer. Ideally, in such a scenario, the editor ought to step in and bring the writing up to scratch. That the book’s editors seem to have sleep-walked through this book is not just Tripathi’s loss but the reader’s too.  


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