First Impression Friday will be a meme where you talk about a book that you JUST STARTED! Maybe you’re only a chapter or two in, maybe a little farther. Based on this sampling of your current read, give a few impressions and predict what you’ll think by the end.
The year is 1857. In Krishnapur, the British community carries on its serene existence, complacently ignoring the rumours of trouble among the native troops elsewhere in Hindustan. Life is dull, but the trappings of Civilization must be earnestly preserved. Only the Collector, Mr Hopkins, senses danger.
When the sepoys in the nearby cantonment rise in bloody revolt, the British retreat in shocked confusion to the residency. Crowded behind makeshift barricades, surrounded by the Collector’s varied mementoes of the Great Exhibition, they set themselves grimly to fight for their lives – and for their way of life – with every means at their disposal.
Happy Friday everyone! The days we everyone has been looking forward to are knocking. It is time to dress down and ditch those office attires for more comfortable clothing. I know, many of you have been looking forward to it. Me too! Over here in the tropics, it is starting to heat up. Summer is definitely in the air although the weather has been rather unpredictable. No wonder some are having weather-related illnesses. Nevertheless, once the heat picks up then Metro Manila can be a literal hellhole. I sure hope not. Summer used to be my favorite season but Manila made me see it in a different light. HAHA.
Anyway, I hope everyone is doing well and that they have ended the week on a high note. I hope that you were able to achieve everything you set out to achieve at the start of the week. I hope that the rest of the year will be filled with nothing but good tidings and blessings. However, if the past week and weeks have been unkind, I hope you get to spend the weekend mustering courage and strength. More importantly, I hope everyone is doing well, in mind, body, and spirit. After chalking up another work week, I hope everyone gets a peaceful and restful weekend. Enjoy the weekend everyone!
But before I can dive into the weekend, let me cap the work week with a new First Impression Friday update. After spending February reading works of British and Irish literature, I decided to extend it to March after I realized that I do have quite a long list of British and Irish books I have yet to read; for the record, British writers are my second most-read writers, just behind the American writers. This journey helped me accomplish several goals such as reading my 1,000th novel (James Joyce’s Ulysses) and completing Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series over five years since I read the first book in the series (this was part of my yearly resolution since 2019!). My foray into British literature continues with James Gordon Farrell’s (J.G. Farrell popularly) The Siege of Krishnapur.
Like the majority of the books I have been reading in the past few years, it was through must-read lists that I encountered J.G. Farrell and his works. Three of them – Troubles, The Siege of Krishnapur, and The Singapore Grip – were even listed as part of the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. The Siege of Krishnapur personally stood out for one reason: it was the winner of the prestigious Booker Prize for Fiction. in 1973. The book was even shortlisted for The Best of the Booker (won by Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children). So it was through this book that I am starting my foray into the oeuvre of Farrell.
The second book in Farrell’s renowned Empire Trilogy – Troubles was the first while The Singapore Grip was the last – The Siege of Krishnapur is a fictional account of the 1857–58 Indian Mutiny which included sieges into the cities of Cawnapore (Kanpur) and Lucknow. While the events that inspired the novel were true, the novel’s setting, Krishnapur, was fictional. It was the home of a healthy chunk of British colonists and was run by a man mainly referred to as the Collector; his name was Mr. Hopkins. During the British colonization of the Indian subcontinent, collectors were tasked to run towns. The Collector was affluent but his wife was unwell and was in the process of moving back to England. He was idealistic, sharing the Victorian dream of civilizing the natives. Having attended The Great Exhibition of 1851, he constantly dreamed of progress. He was a dreamer to a fault, a chronic daydreamer.
Over the horizon, trouble was brewing. The Collector was the first one to recognize it, after seeing pieces of Indian chapati bread appear in unexpected places, such as his own plate, and around the soldiers’ encampment outside of town. Even though he had no inkling as to the nature of what was brewing ahead, he tried to raise the alarm. He also had ramparts built around the town just in case things escalated. His pleas to Calcutta, however, fell on deaf ears. Sure enough, shortly after the Collector’s return from Calcutta, a massacre of British forces in the nearby city of Captainganj spurred revolts across the region. The remaining British forces retreated to Krishnapur. As such, the revolt would find its way into the town. It was soon under siege by the sepoys, Indians who had served in the British army.
The story then follows the progress of the revolt where several lives were lost. Such is the ugly reality of war. Apart from the historical context, the novel introduced an eclectic cast of characters. Apart from the Collector, the novel introduces a diverse cast of characters. Recently arrived was George Fleury. He came to India to visit the grave of his mother who died twenty years prior. He was also a poet and accompanied his sister Miriam. The town also had two doctors: Dr. Dunstaple and Dr. McNab. The former was well-liked but his approach to medicine was archaic. His Scottish colleague, meanwhile, was more progressive. When there was an outbreak of cholera during the revolt, the two doctors disagreed.
There were also details of heroism, disputes related to tactics, and some personal crises. There was also an overflow of biblical references that, at times, I feel were overboard and even unrelated. However, there was another thing that caught my attention. The voice of Indian characters was muted. For a story that heavily involves them, they were underrepresented. I am approaching the concluding pages of the novel so I am hoping that they would figure more prominently in the last pages of the story. Well, I hope so. How about you fellow reader? What book or books are you taking with you for the weekend? I hope you get to enjoy them. Again, happy weekend everyone!
I am currently reading, Nigel Biggar’s “Colonialism, A Moral Reckoning.” You might enjoy it after The Siege of Krishnapur. As a fictional narrative Farrel’s book works, but the stories of Lucknow and especially Kanpur are harrowing to say the least. For Kanpur, I recommend Andrew Ward’s “Our Bones are Scattered” while Lucknow is very well explained in the book by L.E.Ruutz Rees, available in archive.org