The House of Blue Mangoes

It is an interesting story, set in the late nineteenth-early twentieth century southern India, when the country was in the throes of a social and political upheaval. Power equations within the family were changing. The traditional village structures were crumbling with the deprived asserting themselves against the dominant castes. The British were being challenged by an increasingly assertive revolutionary-nationalist movement. It was, truly, a time of  momentous change.

It is against this backdrop that David Davidar weaves his story of three generations of Dorais- the traditional headmen of a village on the Coromandel Coast. Solomon, the grandfather- the archetypal headman- is confronted by an equally powerful rival. Inevitably, the clash of the titans leaves the village in ruins. It is left to his rather ‘effete’ son-Daniel- to don his mantle and repopulate the village while Aaron-the younger son, cast more in his mould, is caught up in the nationalist movement and dies as a result of torture in a British prison. Kannan- the grandson- estranges his father by marrying an Anglo-Indian girl and settles on a tea estate as a planter- a brown sahib. He, too, however cannot resist the call of his native soil and eventually returns to the village where his father had constructed a grand mansion- Neelam Illum or the house of blue mangoes.

The plot is simple. The characters, both Indian and British, appear real. Their relationships- of love, hate, rivalries, and politics- seem so familiar. The everyday incidents in their lives-births, marriages, feasts, deaths- happen in our lives too. The pace of the narrative is not frantic. Yet, the book is entertaining. Its effect lies in the extraordinary skill with which different strands of these lives have been woven into a coherent whole. The prose is charming and evocative. It vividly captures the beauty of the landscape and nuances of Indian life.

There is only one complaint that I have. The book could have been much shorter without compromising on its  value. Some of the incidents, for instance, the search for the best mangoes and the story about the man-eating tiger are wholly unnecessary. But, nevertheless, it is an engrossing story and recommended highly.

4 Responses to “The House of Blue Mangoes”

  1. Your account of the book appears to be a frank and effective assessment. Although I am in permanent dread of long winding stories, I feel enticed enough to take a plunge. Carry on, pal!

  2. I feel like reading this book after reading your review! Thanks for your review!

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