THE SKINNING TREE by SRIKUMAR SEN.
Source: Received for review from ALMA BOOKS.
Set against the Japanese advance on India during the Second World War, The Skinning Tree centres on the nine-year-old Sabby, who lives in a Calcutta family where sophisticated British habits such as bridge and dinner parties co-exist with Indian values and nationalism. When he is sent to a boarding school in northern India, that world is soon forgotten as he’s subjected with his fellow pupils to the teachers’ draconian regime.
The boys themselves take on their educators’ cruel traits, mindlessly killing animals and hanging their skins on a cactus, before their thoughts turn to even more sinister schemes. Conspiratorial whisperings and plans of revenge spiral into a tragedy engulfing Sabby, in an engrossing novel exploring human nature’s darkest facets.
..... Outer back cover
FIRST SENTENCE (Chapter 1): Murder was the plaything of us kids.
MEMORABLE MOMENT (Page 126): What kind of place had he come to? Why had his mother and father sent him here? The Japanese. Yes, yes: because of the Japanese. But why this place of all places, where there was no lavatory paper. He shook his head in dismay.
MY THOUGHTS: Generally disappointed by award winning books (this won the 2012 Tibor Jones South Asia Prize and I can quite understand why) and concerned about the mention of the mindless killing of animals it was with some trepidation that I began reading The Skinning Tree.
However (and I hope I'm not giving too much away here), just like the 'draconian regime' and punishments meted out to the boys, this wasn't overly graphic and constituted such a small part of the novel that whilst undoubtedly harrowing I found tolerable.
Set in 1940's India, The Skinning Tree is the story of nine-year-old Sabby who, his parents fearing Japanese invasion, is uprooted from his 'Cal' (Calcutta) home only to be packed off to a remote boarding school run by English missionaries whose first rule seems to be 'spare the rod (in this instance a strap with an English penny tied to it to ensure maximum pain) and spoil the child'.
A debut novel with a largely autobiographical feel to it. Whilst I felt that Sabby's journey from a somewhat shy 'mammy's boy' to his loss of innocence, to his becoming inured to the violence around about him could have perhaps been better dealt with it was the 81 year old author's evocative descriptions of an Anglicised Indian life, of afternoon whist parties, of lengthy train journeys that will long remain with me.
Disclaimer: Read and reviewed on behalf of publishers, Alma Books, I was merely asked for my honest opinion, no financial compensation was asked for nor given.
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