Of Juxtapositions and Oxymorons

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Book Review for The Doctor and the Saint: Caste, Race, and Annihilation of Caste by Arundhati Roy and Tales of Nevèrÿon by Samuel R Delaney. As usual, spoiler alert in place for both of these books. If you intend on reading either of the books, stop here, bookmark this page and come back when you are done.

This review is NOT intended to compare the two extremely distinct authors nor the books. This review is my point of view, my thoughts and my opinions alone. You are welcome to click off if anything seems not to your liking.

Background on why these books and why in this combination. A few years ago, I realized that my reading habits were exclusively housed in the fantasy genre and more so in the YA fantasy genre. I decided that it was time to expand my bookshelf. Ever since, I have been trying to incorporate different genres, authors, countries and eras. It was one of the best decisions of my life. I have learned so much and I can feel my brain expanding covering up some of my blind spots that I would never have had otherwise.

It isn’t easy, however, to branch out of your comfort zone and commit to reading a book that you probably will have no interest in. Luckily, I know myself pretty well and am able to pick out books I know I want to learn from or is a topic I care about. I have had a few duds on the way (looking at you The King of Kahel) but for the most part I have really enjoyed this journey.

I try to pick a book I really want to and a book I really should, to read simultaneously. This way if one of them is not really doing it for me, I can take a break with the other one. It is also fun reading different styles of writing and storytelling at the same time.

Never before have I read two books that are stark contrasts yet vaguely related. I also did not expect to enjoy Delany as much as I did or be disappointed in Roy as much as I was. It was fascinating reading these two books together though. Social commentary hasn’t changed much in the past few decades probably because the world seems to be going backwards rather than becoming more tolerant.

I enjoy Roy’s works – a lot. I devoured The Ministry of Utmost Happiness and can’t get The God of Small Things out of my head even after all these years. I have heard very good things about her non-fiction narrative works. I was very excited to read The Doctor and the Saint. Perhaps my expectations were misplaced, I was hoping for a logical comparison of India’s two greatest leaders during the Freedom movement. Both had very distinct styles of rebellion, different causes and fundamentally different ideologies. Obviously, neither of them are perfect and depending on who you ask, they are going to pick a side. I was prepared for a somewhat biased discourse. Instead, what I got was an all out attack on the Saint and next to no analysis on the Doctor. Don’t get me wrong – my loyalties lie with the Doctor just as Roy. However, I was hoping for an in-depth analysis of how their ideologies affected the Freedom Movement, the impact of their involvement and how it shaped Independent India.

To say I was disappointed is an understatement.

Delaney however, absolutely blew my mind. Something about their writing style is so captivating; I was mesmerized by the world building, invested in the characters all the while very acutely aware of the social commentary. The story telling is amazing and the writer successfully brings all the stories into a full circle – which is no easy feat considering each story is a different part of the world and a different set of characters. At no point does it feel preachy and the commentary is so effortlessly woven into the story telling that it doesn’t feel jarring at all.

It was an absolute pleasure reading my first ever Delaney and you bet I am going to get my hands on some of their other works.