Sunday, 17 May 2015

Book Review: The Skinning Tree by Srikumar Sen.


Book: The Skinning Tree

Author: Srikumar Sen

Pages: 222


Read On: Hardback

How Long it Took Me To Read: 2 days

Plot Summary: Nine-year-old Sabby lives in his imagination, at his grandmother’s house in Calcutta. He lives in a family where the anglicised sophistication of bridge and dinner parties co-exist with Indian values and nationalism. Sabby’s world is filled with the adventures of comic book heroes, tales from far and away, successfully pulling him away from the city that breathes outside his doorstep. But when the Japanese advance on India during World War II, Sabby finds himself being sent to a boarding school in northern India.

In a regime of rules and punishments, the schoolboys are beaten and brutalized by the teachers; they are transformed into mirrors of their abusers. From the mindless killing of birds and animals, the bodies of their skinned trophies are thrown on to a cactus known as the Skinning Tree, the boys’ thoughts turn to murder, which to them feels like a natural consequence of the pain inflicted on them. Conspiratorial whisperings and talk of killing and revenge spiral into a tragedy engulfing Sabby.

Revisiting the ghosts of memory that haunted a boyhood, The Skinning Tree marks an evocative and elegant debut.


General Thoughts: This book was on my radar for a while and it kept popping up every time I browsed on any online bookshop. I decided to finally get it and give it a read. I read this book in April around the Bengali New Year--- in attempts to read stories from Bengal during a Bengali festival.

Things I Liked:

1. The writing was pleasant and enjoyable.

2. The premise was the most interesting aspect of this book. The idea of a crime in childhood and it's lasting effects into adulthood--this is one of my favourite things to read about.

3. The idea of an anglicized family living under the British Raj is always intriguing to me. While some people in the country were doing everything in their power to oust the British, there were some families who were pretty British in their sensibility and actions.  

4. The boarding school set-up was very true to life and came to life in the pages of this book.

5. The fear, stress, tension and anxiety Sabby feels before making it to his boarding school was shown so well and you could empathise with him and I wished him well. I also found myself feeling just as stressed!

6. The bits set in Calcutta were wonderful too. The Calcutta of the 1940s was a treat to read about.



Things I Didn't Like:

1. There was something a bit unbalanced about this book. In the sense that this book was mostly set in Calcutta and then a portion was set in the boarding school--which in real time was a just a few months-- and then back in Calcutta and it was just over. I was expecting a little bit more of an older Sabby in the book. We see him a bit at the very beginning, looking back at his life and mentioning briefly how the crime/death affected him and his later life. But that was pretty much it. To me this was disappointing. Also Sabby only spent a few months here..and it was not such a big deal as the plot summary makes it out to be.

2. Sabby is the only character in the book you could possibly have a connect with. There are no other even remotely remarkable characters in this book.

3. The book overall by the end was a little disappointing. I was expecting more and it just didn't deliver. 

  Rating: 3/5

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