Let's start with the bad first.
Sea of Poppies, by Amitav Ghosh.
This man does not like trees. There's no other explanation for such a waste of paper.
Okay. So I was sold on the hype. To be honest, it's a truly interesting setting for a novel. Set in a time when whitey was cheerfully lining his pockets with the proceeds of the opium trade, and sowing the seeds for generations of conflict, addiction and general mayhem, in that inimitably British fashion.
Then, I read the book. (Having coughed up hard earned cash for the hard cover, mind you.)
Despite having no fondness for those who are pigmentally challenged, I have to wonder why pretty much all the Brits in this book were either sexual deviants or ethically challenged, or both. If the intent wa to create a caricature of the Brit of the Raj, it's come off rather badly. Sort of like a child maliciously imitating a dis-liked older relative.
Then we have the Indian (not to forget one mulatto lad and one french lass) characters. They are multi-dimensional, to some extent, but they too seem rather obsessed with throbbing members and heaving cleavage.
The occasional digressions do pop up - indentured labour, womens' lib, annexation, botany, the lot of the agrarian class, and even the odd references to opium. By and large, however, the story revolves a lot more around bonking than doping. Which is not a crime in itself, but it does make one feel the book would have been better titled Cream of Poppies.
The scary part is, it's just the beginning of a trilogy. Someone tell this man how fast the Amazon forest cover is depleting. Please.
Which brings us, to the good.
A case of exploding mangoes, by Mohd. Hanif.
Well written. Well structured. Well crafted. Okay. Fuck all that Siskel-Ebert crap. It was fucking brilliant. Haven't enjoyed a book from this part of the world, this much, in ages.
Funny where it has to be. Bizarre where it needs to be. Beautiful premise. Incredible characters. In short, a great entertainer. It doesn't promise to open your eyes, or change your life, or any such highbrow crap. And it bloody well doesn't pretend to try and do it either.
Fast paced, reasonably tight, and manages to keep you guessing pretty well. And worth every penny.
If you're at the airport, and stuck for a choice between one of these, well, you're not, actually. Buy A case of exploding mangoes, with my very best wishes. Enjoy it. And if that jerk Amitav Ghosh is ahead of you in the security check queue, stick an aluminium foil cutout of a hand gun in his carry-on baggage.