Why do we read books? Some read for knowledge, some for entertainment, some just to kill the time. Still, others read books in the hope that they will find in them the meaning of life. And, of course, there are those who read books because they want to find what the answers to all the world’s problems are.
Imagine your are Patros Patranobis, an accountant living in Mumbai, the unwilling hero of C.Y. Gopinath’s début novel The Books of Answers (HarperCollins India, 2011), and receive a book written by one of your ancestors. This book is like no other, because it contains all you need to know in order to solve the world’s problems. The only problem is that Patros doesn’t want the ancient book and goes to great extents to get rid of it. Oh, I almost forgot, the book is sealed inside a metal case and there’s no key!
In the Acknowledgements section opening the book (Gopinath’s book, that is) we find out that, before starting to write his first novel, the author had been, for his entire life, a journalist dealing with facts, not fiction. But, Gopinath’s skills at writing fiction supersede all expectations, and for those familiar with Gopi’s (as his close friends call him) writings, they come as a (pleasant) surprise.
If Gopi’s first book, Travels with the Fish, a “little” bestseller in itself, published by the HarperCollins in 1999, deals with the ins-and-outs of his globetrotting, The Books of Answers is of Orwellian proportions, bordering the absurd. It is a social satire, critical of contemporary Indian society with all its nastiness and corruption. With plenty of humour and an open eye for the minor details of every day life in India, Gopi’s books promises to be an engaging read.
A plethora of characters litter the novel and, apart from Patros, we’re also introduced to the corrupt police officer, the unscrupulous politician, the young rebel, and the good Samaritan. On top of all these, we have Mumbai, the city itself, a place that constantly suppresses its inhabitants: “The rain has almost stopped and Mumbai was in disarray. For half a century, this is how water has wielded power over this city. It dissolves the innumerable mounds of construction debris that dot sidewalks like termite hills and when you try to sidestep those, your feet plunge in gurgling rivulets of mud. Garbage acquires fins and floats away on temporary tides, to be abandoned eventually at the gates of opulent highrises. Soggy paper, indestructible green and pink plastic bags, leftover restaurant food, banana peels, shit, all these become the texture of the city.” These few lines bring to mind Dickens’s Bleak House, with rainwater instead of fog, don’t they?
But, low and behold, Patros Patranobis doesn’t want the book, doesn’t want to find the key, and he sells it to a second-hand bookstore. And thus, instead of solving the world’s problems, Patros becomes the most wanted man of a corrupt government.
The book is available via Amazon or as an e-book via Smashwords. For the past few years, C.Y. Gopinath has called Bangkok his home. It is here where he writes his next book and runs the Bangkok Writers Guild. Find our more about him on his blog.