Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Melancholy of Innocence by Raj Doctor

Title: Melancholy of Innocence
Author: Raj Doctor
Publisher: Frog Books (Leadstart Publishing)
Pages: 342
Genre: Fiction / Romance / Philosophy
Rating: 7.5/10

‘Melancholy of Innocence’ in author’s own words is ‘a philo-poetic fable of love set in the late 1920s in Istanbul, just after the political revolution leading to Turkish independence. It is an adolescent’s journey into self discovery about the true meaning of love’.

13 year old Umit has had a normal and happy childhood. His parents had a love marriage, and they are open and unorthodox in their upbringing. Umit is never forced to do anything. Umit gets deeply influenced by Zeheb, who is a distant relative, with spiritual and Sufi leanings. Umit considers him as his mentor and philosopher. Sufi influence is pretty evident in his thoughts and in the way Umit conducts himself.

Umit feels a Ruh connection with Masum, when he sees her for the first time on the streets of Istanbul. Umit is 13, while Masum is 21 at the time. For quite sometime, Umit resists calling it ‘love’. For him, this ‘connection’ and his ‘feelings’ for her, are much beyond the worldly definition of love.

The book traces Umit’s single-minded devotion and love for Masum, while doing which he does not even think about the society, family, future, differences between them and accepted norms of conduct. He just devotes himself in being close to Masum, and revels in the joy of those moments. This love story, as is evident towards the end and in the beginning, had three phases. This book dwells in the first phase when Umit falls in love with Masum.   

The author has put the caveat that whatever Umit does is not his preachings for someone who worships another person, but just Umit’s way of expressing his unconditional love. He may not be right, unmindful of consequences, yet he does what he feels right. It is very easy to overlook that Umit is only thirteen.

After reading the book, I felt that the title as well as the cover page captures the essence of the story well. I also do not question the setting or the background chosen by the author because it is his prerogative. My experience has been that authors usually derive stories from their own personal experiences. I wouldn’t say that the setting or the background has deep influence on this story but a reader will certainly find several cultural and political references, and vivid description of Istanbul from 1920s.

The main characters of this book are Umit and Masum. We get a lot of insights into Umit’s character, mostly because the story is from his perspective. 

The novel is full of philosophical anecdotes but at the heart, is a love story, may be a little obsessive. At every point, the narrator tries to explain behaviour, de-constructs human nature and philosophy behind everything.

I liked the references at the bottom of pages, which aid understanding; and the year mentioned at the end of each chapter is extremely useful. I don’t know if it happens with other people, when a novel goes back and forth in time, I sometimes get confused on the exact time when a thing happens.

The only issues I have are with narration and the pace. The narration is done by a third person in a simple story telling manner. Occasionally it also speaks on behalf of Umit. I felt that the narration was a bit unidimensional.

There are a few typographical errors in some pages, wherein there are no spaces between words. There are also unwarranted paragraph spaces in between continuing sentence.
This book will appeal greatly to those who love philosophy. I personally favour fast paced stories, so in a few places, I thought the story lost momentum whenever author digressed to dwell on philosophies related to different facets of life, but that I thought was intentional. Had it been just a love story, it would have more pace but often the narration spirals into understanding human psychology, actions and philosophies. But it would certainly appeal to the readers who love this genre.

I am happy that the author has not attempted to veil philosophy in the guise of love story, and he chooses to call it ‘philo-poetic’ fable of love; because the book is exactly that.

A story introduces you to places, characters and their lives. For a while you live their lives, go through the proceedings, and when you come out, that is when a book makes a difference; were you able to know the characters intimately, were you able to empathise, were you happy to be with them for some time of your lives, was it worthwhile! If you answer these questions honestly, you know you have got the answer of whether a book was good or not, for you.

Well, at the end, I was pretty engaged in Umit and Masum’s unusual love story, and wanted to know what happens in the end. I also tried to reason why Masum should love Umit, who is not her equal in age, looks, social status or education. But even beautiful people crave for adulation and love. Who wouldn’t want such single minded devotion!

Towards the end, the book says that Umit and Masum had 3 seasons of love, this story was just one of those. A sequel seems impending. Will I read if there is a sequel? I am not too sure because I don’t favour philosophies much, but then since I already know Umit and Masum to some extent, I just might! 

Image source: Amazon

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