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Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Black vs White. Good vs Evil. Master vs Slave. Evolution vs Divine Creation. Civilization vs Primitive Instincts.

These are some of the themes touched upon by Kunal Basu's novel - Racists. The book narrates the tale of an outrageous experiment - an endeavour to settle the debate of whether the European whites are superior to the African blacks. Set in the year 1855, the novel charts the paths of the English scientist - Bates, and his French rival, Belavoix. The two scientists decide to leave two children - a black boy and a white girl on the deserted island of Arlinda for 12 years, to decide who will emerge the master, and who will be the slave.

The children are to be raised by a mute nurse, Norah, whose sole prerogative is to keep them alive for the duration of the experiment. The scientists constantly pit their theories against each other, with Bates focusing on proving his hypothesis by using the 'science' of craniometry - periodically measuring the dimensions of the skulls, and postulating that the larger dimensions would belong to the more intelligent. Belavoix, on the other hand, takes out time from his feigned illnesses to predict the insanity of the nurse, and that one of the children will kill the other at some point of time.

Norah, and Bates' assistant, Quarterly begin to see the children as humans, as opposed to the scientists who only view them as test specimens. Do they watch from the sidelines, as their masters plot a dance of death and destruction? Do they interfere and stop what could possibly be an experiment that has never taken place before?

Kunal Basu's characters have strong dimensions to them, and the reader begins to understand how each one's mind works. One can even draw parallels with contemporary characters, and how racism manifests itself in modern times.

However, what begins promisingly enough, ends with a damp squib as Mr. Basu takes the easy way out and finishes his book without answering the all-important question. The narrative slows down and peters out towards the end into predictable mediocrity.

Still, a fairly good read and I'd give it around 3/5.

Happy Reading!


Rohini Prasanth said...

uh oh. sad to note the ending wasn't thrilling. but hey... maybe the journey through the book was worth it?

seems like a really interesting read. thanks!

Sumit said...

Yes, the journey through the book was interesting. The characters are well-sketched out, and the plot is good too. But, if it hadn't been for the last 15 pages, it would've been a 4.5/5. :)

Grayquill said...

Here I thought the two would fall in love and become husband and wife. Destroying both of the doctors premises.

Sumit said...

Ah, well... that might even be the case... I didn't write more because I didn't want the review to turn into a spoiler. :D