In the Spring of 1857, with India on the brink of a violent and bloody mutiny, Krishnapur is a remote town on the vast North Indian plain. For the British there, life is orderly and genteel. Then the sepoys at the nearest military cantonment rise in revolt and the British community retreats with shock into the Residency. They prepare to fight for their lives with what weapons they can muster. As food and ammunition grow short, the Residency, its defences battered by shot and shell and eroded by the rains, becomes ever more vulnerable.
The Siege of Krishnapur is a modern classic of narrative excitement that also digs deep to explore some fundamental questions of civilisation and life.
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Victorian life in India - the clash between two great civilizations, a cauldron of human drama - was perhaps the most deeply romantic expression of life in all the modern age. We are forever fascinated. This award-winning novel concerns the events surrounding the Sepoy uprising of 1857. A young Englishman becomes an unlikely hero when he finds himself at the center of a political whirlwind. By turns caustic and compassionate, written with sardonic wit but displaying a passionate sympathy, this novel of splendid characters and emotionally charged events fully deserves its reputation as a masterpiece.Review:
"The first sign of trouble at Krishnapur came with a mysterious distribution of chapatis, made of coarse flour and about the size and thickness of a biscuit; towards the end of February 1857, they swept the countryside like an epidemic."Students of history will recognise 1857 as the year of the Sepoy rebellion in India--an uprising of native soldiers against the British, brought on by Hindu and Muslim recruits' belief that the rifle cartridges with which they were provided had been greased with pig or cow fat. This seminal event in Anglo-Indian relations provides the backdrop for J.G. Farrell's Booker Prize- winning exploration of race, culture and class, The Siege of Krishnapur.
Like the mysteriously appearing chapatis, life in British India seems, on the surface, innocuous enough. Farrell introduces us gradually to a large cast of characters as he paints a vivid portrait of the Victorians' daily routines that are accompanied by heat, boredom, class-consciousness and the pursuit of genteel pastimes intended for cooler climates. Even the siege begins slowly, with disquieting news of massacres in cities far away. When Krishnapur itself is finally attacked, the Europeans withdraw inside the grounds of the Residency where very soon conditions begin to deteriorate: food and water run out, disease is rampant, people begin to go a little mad. Soon the very proper British are reduced to eating insects and consorting across class lines. Farrell's descriptions of life inside the Residency are simultaneously horrifying and blackly humorous. The siege, for example, is conducted under the avid eyes of the local populace, who clearly anticipate an enjoyable massacre and thus arrive every morning laden with picnic lunches (plainly visible to the starving Europeans). By turns witty and compassionate, The Siege of Krishnapur comprises the best of all fictional worlds: unforgettable characters, an epic adventure and at its heart a cultural clash for the ages. --Alix Wilber
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