I rate it: 7/10
Admit it, readers who have heard of this book, you thought it was a dark fanfic about hobbits.
No? Just me then?
Anyhow, the Middle Kingdom is not another name for Middle Earth. The Middle Kingdom is Vijayanagara in the 16th century, in full bloom of prosperity. In this city lives Devdatta (incidentally, the lady who sent me the book is also called Devdatta. That is too interesting to be a coincidence). Devdatta is a courtier, the blue-eyed boy of the king and the ministers. He is married, expecting a child, has a mistress, and is more or less in the process of making it in the world. Then one day, he befriends a Persian traveler and is drawn into an intoxicating love affair that threatens to destroy his world. For this traveler, Farjad, is not only of a different faith, he is also a man.
I found Love and Death remarkable well written. Ms. Rajan has a very strong hold over her facts, and she is an excellent story teller to boot. She weaves the five-century old story of the doomed man-love seamlessly with the growing flirtation between the two historians who are studying his diary.
Ms. Rajan is also, it seems, a foodie. She often digresses from the story to describe in loving details various Kannada delicacies. This is a bit weird, especially for someone who does not drool over South Indian food, but it is not particularly jarring. As I said, she has a way with words.
I also wish the writer had fleshed out the romance a little more, so that we could relate to Devdatta’s obsession better. I think it is fascinating that he loses his heart not to the physical aspects of Farjad, but to his philosophy, his attitude towards life, the poetry in his words, and the element of friendship between them. If only we could have gotten a better view of this unusual love story, this book would have been memorable. Also we barely get to see any anguish or confusion in Devdatta as he is leaving the closet, which I felt was a bit unrealistic.
On the whole, an interesting, well-written romance that is high on oriental sentiments and low on action. A cosy read, but not really in the same league as other masterpieces in this genre (A S Byatt’s Possession springs to mind.)
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