Hussein: An Entertainment

 
9780002259538: Hussein: An Entertainment

A delightful tale of an elephant handler written by Patrick O'Brian when a very young man. HUSSEIN tells the story of a young mahout -- or elephant handler -- his childhood and life in India and his relationship and adventures with elephants. Patrick was in his early twenties when he wrote it. Caesar: The Life Story of a Panda Leopard, his first book, was written when he was 14, but the dry wit and unsentimental precision O'Brian's readers savour is already in evidence. The book was feted on publication and O'Brian described as the 'boy-Thoreau'. The book was published in England and the United States, and translations appeared in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Japan. In 1938 O'Brian published his next novel, called Hussein: An Entertainment, a marvellously readable adventure story set in India. Reviewers in the United States were particularly enthusiastic: the New York Times compared Hussein favourably to Kipling's Kim, calling it 'a gorgeous enterntainment'. Thomas Sugrue wrote in the New York Herald Tribune: 'The story of Hussein is a swift-moving, well-written account of events so fantastic that moonshine was certainly their mother...Hussein, in quest after his Sashiya, is a hero as alive and as human as Tom Jones seeking his Sophia. '

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Review:

Patrick O'Brian's remarkable career could serve as the textbook model for a writer's life. An invalid in his childhood, he read voraciously, and produced his first novel, Caesar, at the age of 12, while his tutor wasn't looking. It was published three years later in 1930. Hussein (1938), his second novel, grew from a short story O'Brian submitted to an Oxford journal. Having been urged to expand the tale, he trotted out a thousand words a day until the book was done. Over the next eight decades, he produced more than 20 books, including the celebrated Aubrey/Maturin series on the British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. In the new introduction to his first two novels (now reprinted after many years), O'Brian discloses that although he had met a few Indians, both Muslim and Hindu, he had never been to India at the time he wrote Hussein. "The book is largely derivative," he explains, "based on reading and the recollections, anecdotes and letters of friends and relations who were well acquainted with that vast country: and it has no pretension to being anything more than what it is called, an Entertainment."

A delicious blend of Kipling and the Arabian Nights, Hussein is the story of a Muslim mahout (an elephant keeper for the British Raj) whose bravery and curiosity lead him on a series of lively adventures. After a scandal involving a hated rival, a deadly curse, and a beautiful woman, Hussein is forced to leave government service and make his way as an itinerant snake charmer and storyteller. His stories open into other stories, which connect with the action of the novel, and eventually our hero finds himself in a situation in which, like Scheherazade, his life depends on how skillfully he tells his tale. Even though it isn't "the real thing" as far as nationality or cultural origins go, Hussein is most assuredly the entertainment that O'Brian promised, and the impressive early work of a natural writer. --Regina Marler

About the Author:

Patrick O'Brian is the author of the acclaimed Aubrey-Maturin series of historical novels. He is also the biographer of Picasso and Joseph Banks. He lives in SW France.

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