Atanu, my friend, has been writing to me over the past few days, as and when he has been reading my book too. Though he has promised to post a consolidated review on my wall, I couldn't resist from publishing all his communication in the form of a blog. I'm sure he will edit out few things when he writes the final review, but whatever he has written is worth a read. It's perhaps the most elaborate discussion on my book.
Got your novel and started reading. Nice prose, unadorned but precise, letting the strength of narrative carry it along.
This is going to be a bit uncomfortable as the Bangladesh part (evidently based on stories you have heard) resembles too much of what I heard about my own family.
A fallen aristocracy has a sense of poisonous self-pitying perspective of the world which swings between superiority and inferiority complex. I have seen that so much growing up in a clan of displaced, long-suffering but self-entitled Vaidyas over the years I had learnt to treat those childhood stories as an inherited nostalgia for an imagined past. I am guessing your novel is going to make some old scars a bit raw.
Now to read on to Kubha, I am anticipating some deep historical unveiling...
Instead of writing one big review at the end, I have thought it would be better if I let you know the minor comments as I read along and then have a summary later. You may or may not find them very useful.
We seem to share some common interest: music, linguistics. I grew up listening to a lot of Western classical, a love that remains with me though nowadays most my my classical listening is focused on post-tonal music: Schoenberg, Berg, Ligeti, Saariaho, Stockhausen... However Jazz is what I listen most and I found your description of Kratu's attempt at mastering non-diatonic chords on guitar at the beginning of the Pur-Bhed chapter to be funnily accurate. However these non-diatonic intervals do appear in a lot of tonal classical music...Debussy, Ravel,... and of course in Bach (who foresees so much of the possibilities). Anyway, some critical comments:
a. You need a better Editor. In Chapter 3 at one place talking about the three-node melodies the text says "Do, Re, Pa" instead of "Do, Re, So" . It was a slip of pen (not uncommon to multi-liguists) from your part that should have been caught in editing.
b. If I may, whereas your writing about Kratu's first meeting with Afsar is impressive and masterful, the Tits chapter was maudlin and unsure at the same time. When you are trying to convey a cluster of complex interconnected feelings, which is rendered more unfathomable to outsiders by a very uniquely local form of inter-family dynamics that colors Kratu and Tista's perception of each other, trying to explain them at get-go is not a good strategy. We, your readers, should feel intrigued and mystified and not over-informed. Also, if I may, the whole "Tits" joke is a little juvenile. It may all be very true and yes funny, but a little on the overwrought side of the humor. The sexual humor can be a very potent weapon in a writer's arsenal, so it is best used sparingly.
c. You are at your best when you are writing about Kubha and her stories, and also writing about things that emanate from those stories or are connected to, even in anticipation. For everything else the quality drops a bit, not significantly but noticeably enough. Something you may want to think about for your next novel.
Sudipto, so finally finished the novel. Thought a little bit about the most efficient way to convey my perspectives that you might find on the right side of originality. I am sure the obvious scopes for improvements have already been elucidated by your myriad fans and well-wishers.
First of all, a very very enjoyable read. Using the narrative thrust of a thriller to engage the readers' intellect on the subtler and more erudite core of the story is a time-worn tactic, but it doesn't always work. Yours did. Excellently done. There are some minor implausibility problems -- not a matter of what can happen in real life, anything can happen in real life, but a matter of being able to convince the readers fully, there is just too many happy coincidences a la Tinitn -- but those do not derail the story. It is an issue of coloration, the bursts of improvisation on an otherwise tightly coiled story didn't always pay off. Again, those are minor flaws that can be overlooked.
Essentially, as is often the case, the strength of the novel is also the source of its weakness. The strength of the novel is its authentic and genuine passion and engagement with a certain historical worldview, and a sense of spatial-temporal unity and continuity of human civilization which is a quintessentially Indian philosophical trait.
However, that authenticity can preclude irony, and doubt, and subterfuges of mind and the treacheries of time. There is a humor in your novel which is very Bengali, and its truly lovable and funny in those moments (though tad bit on the side of the precious, but that maybe simply my harsher predisposition), and there is a great intelligence and erudition of subject matter. But to truly lift this novel out of its genre-specifiicty it needed darker shades of humor and an intelligence that turns on itself. It needed self-doubts, it needed irony, and it needed a sense of displacement from its core to catch the readers on their moments of smug knowingness. Great art leaves one puzzled and invigorated at the same time.
A great example you would find, in a different kind of story about historical continuity, is Eco's masterful "Foucault's Pendulum".
Really looking forward to your next work. And thanks so much for indulging my comments. Hopefully at least some of those you found useful.
BTW, would you be okay if I post a concise review of your work on my timeline? It would be a summarized version of what I had written above, but erring on the side of praise.