The Muddy River is like an art film. A complex weave of people, insights, conversations. A good art film, I must say, because when I was reading it, I could visualize it.
It is a multi-faceted, multi-layered perspective that patches together a narrative of Chandran, the protagonist and the people around him in the form of letters and content submissions about a book he is writing.
The style of writing is so simple and the conversations so easy, that you make a very gradual entry into the reality of the main character. A low key sense of humor and emotional honesty is riveting. The style of writing is leisurely. In the beginning of the book, I experienced myself as taking a tour of the Chandran’s world. Enjoying it, while wondering where it was going.
But slowly, the dots started connecting and weaving an intricate picture. In a sense the story starts about a third of the way into the book, and I became a part of it, because I understand the realistic cobweb of connections in it.
The strength of the narrative is its brutally honest take at life itself. The unspeakable loss of a child, the nitpicking bureaucracy, coming face to face with militancy, corruption, strained love between husband and wife… it is an unashamed stating of the reality of being human. Its glorious vulnerability.
The story doubles on itself in places with a new lens and adds a layers to an already complex weave.
An undoubted delight of the whole book was amazing characterizations. The characters are vivid, their quirks detailed and each character provides a glimpse into their own parallel reality. An amazingly rich emotional and experiential landscape.
It is astonishingly easy to relate with the protagonist. Through his eyes we understand everything from Gandhian philosophy to the darkest demons eating away at the soul. We relate with the outlook on life with own priorities and a clumsiness that comes with being a thinking person in a world of facades.
The tiny details that outlined how a bureaucracy shuffles inconvenient people to things no one wants to do, the questioning of irregularities and uncovering a large crime, the negotiation with militants for a kidnapped engineer are an experience in negotiating in a world out of own influence while having own .
The story is a story of Chandran writing a book within the book. The comments of his wife as she mails completed chapters to two friends and conversations about the story add remarkable insight, and it is a kind of hall of mirrors type construct. Perspectives of the same thing, reflections of reflections… I found myself wondering where the book ends and the author begins.
The story is based on a true story, except that there was no good ending there. As I turned the pages, I found myself imagining what the kidnapped man and all those around him went through. The book is dedicated to the long suffering people of Assam and Sanjoy Ghosh who was kidnapped by ULFA militants from Majuli on the 4th of July 1997. He did not return.
After reading this book, perhaps the greatest thing I can say about it is that it has brought me new insight and sensitivity for the people of Assam. The book is a journey I lived through – this is the simplest I can put it.