There's a fascinating array of characters in English, August. In Madna there are bureaucrats and their wives, other professionals, a visiting Westerner; revealed through correspondence are aspects of August's New Delhi friends (Westernised urban youth) and Bengali family (some of them religiously orthodox). August has a razor-sharp eye, capable of penetrating vivisection of those around him — perhaps an implausible trait in someone so young. Chatterjee's characters make up a mosaic of several middle strata of Indian society, with glimpses of faults along language, class and culture lines and of divisions between generations and between rural and urban — but even the slenderest are individuals, not caricatures or types.
English, August presents an unflattering portrait of the Indian government in action. August's own approach punctuates apathy and dilatory attention to duty with episodes of activity, notably an effort to bring water to a deprived village which brings him into contact with violent Naxalites.
Chatterjee's writing is most notable, however, for its humour. English, August is irreverent, frank in both language and ideas, and very, very funny. It has some dark elements and maintains a certain seriousness, but the overall mood is light-hearted and individual episodes and pieces of dialogue are hilarious. Chatterjee has an unerring touch and perfect balance, maintaining continuous comic entertainment without ever descending into farce.
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- review and links at the Complete Review
- Related reviews:
- Upamanyu Chatterjee - The Last Burden
- more South Asian literature