23 Oct 2013



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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Kelly said...

Mindlessly killing animals and hanging the skins on the tree? I'm not sure I would like this! But....I trust what you said about it not being too graphic.

Suko said...

Incisive review (as always), Tracy! I am interested in learning more about India during the 1940s, and this sounds like a wonderful, "award-worthy" debut novel.

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

Hi Tracy,

I have received quite an eclectic mix of worldwide books for review just lately and this one sounds like an excellent contribution as the Indian offering.

The lovely people at Alma Publishing did offer me this book for review, however there was no way that I could comply with their request that all reviews should be published within the month. Looking back, I suppose I was stupidly honest about this, so failed to get my copy ... never mind .... I'm not jealous or anything!

A great review, nothing less than I have come to expect and I am glad that you really enjoyed the read this time.


Shooting Stars Mag said...

sounds like a tough book in some ways. I'm glad you were satisfied by it more than you thought.

Melissa (Books and Things) said...

Don't think this one is for me. Killing animals and hurting kids. Nope, not one I would like. Glad you were satisfied with the writing!

Literary Feline said...

I am glad you made note of the fact that it wasn't overly graphic in terms of the violence. That's good to know.

The first sentence is a great hook. That alone would make me sit up and take notice of this book. It sounds like it's quite a powerful book.

So many books, so little time said...

Hmmm animal killing never sits well with me in books, even skimmed over. Thought provoking it sounds though, thanks for reviewing.

Lainy http://www.alwaysreading.net

The Bookworm said...

The Skinning Tree sounds like a good read. Glad you enjoyed it and that it was not overly graphic.

Stephanie@Fairday's Blog said...

As soon as I read the blurb I thought- this one is not for me, I won't be able to handle the killing of animals. But- after reading your review and learning that that part isn't large nor very detailed, I might be able to give this one a try. :)

Thanks for sharing!

Alexia561 said...

Enjoyed your review, but I'm not much for historical fiction and don't think I could get past the skinning animals, even if it wasn't too graphic. Always good to expand one's horizons, but think I'll pass on this. Thanks for the review!

Brian Joseph said...

The animal thing might also cause me to shy away from a book like this. Nevertheless this sounds to be a compelling story.

Though very dark I like the cover.

Betty Manousos said...

this sounds like a good novel, but i think i'll pass on this...i won't be able to handle the animal thing.

big hugs~