Monday, July 15, 2013

Book Review: Jacob Hills by Ismita Tandon Dhanker

Title: Jacob Hills
Author: Ismita Tandon Dhanker
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Pages: 268
Price: Rs 299
Genre: Fiction / Suspense / Thriller / Crime Fiction
Rating: 8/10
Format: Paperback

I noticed this book on a lot of blogs. Honestly, I am not too fond of the cover page, so I was not instantly drawn to the book (since it is the cover page that attracts me first). Moreover, the title of the book was not really giving away anything about the story. But after consistently reading some good reviews, I reluctantly decided to give it a chance. Frankly, I am extremely cautious in reading contemporary Indian authors. Many disappoint and I hate to abandon a book midway. 

Jacob Hills is a fictitious Army training establishment, located near Simla in Himachal. It has a War College, called Jacob Hall, where around 300 senior and junior officers are trained in various skills. Jacob Hills offers a perfect set up for a riveting story that encompasses a fascinating Army background, unconventional lifestyle choices like wife swapping, extreme domestic violence, disturbing child sexual abuse, mystery surrounding the death of a young woman and clear evidence of years of physical torture, internal politics, and also a heartwarming story of love and faith between the main couple. The book ‘Jacob Hills’ is a story of passion and ambition, which we discover through the overlapping stories of several characters.

Just to set the records straight, the author has mentioned in the beginning that though she has chosen Army as her story’s background, at the end of the day the story is about people; people who misuse power, any kind of power, and they can be found anywhere.  

Set in 1980s, the book ‘Jacob Hills’, is about a few Army officers and their families, about their polished outer pretences and some hidden truths. The narrative progresses interestingly through multiple characters, but Eva is the main protagonist.

Major George Chandy is recuperating from his leg injury and he has been transferred to Jacob Hills in the role of an instructor. Eva Chandy is his Anglo-Indian wife, who joins as an English teacher at the Army school. By chance, she finds herself embroiled in the death case of a mystery woman. The misery in which the young woman dies makes her commit to finding her tomentor.  Lt. Colonel Gary and Pam Randhawa are George’s old friends who are affable and yet unconventional in their marriage. They run a wife-swapping club. Saryu is a plain looking village belle, married to Major Vikram Singh. Saryu’s story is a heart-wrenching story of brutal domestic violence and apathy, and of physical and psychological torture. Vikram forces her to sleep with his seniors for furthering his career but she takes up sleeping around with vengeance to teach him a lesson. Captain Rana is a young officer in love with a traditional, Muslim girl Heena. He has feelings for her but he is not serious about settling down, while she is blinded by her love for him. Colonel Tehlan is George’s boss while his daughter Bunny is Eva’s student. Eva and Geroge are disturbed by Bunny’s parents’ denial of what their daughter is going through. Major Alex is another instructor at the War College, who is constantly haunted by the memories of a disgraceful episode in his career that led to the deaths of his colleagues.

Each chapter is from a character’s perspective and the character’s name is represented graphically that tells a lot about his or her personality. The author’s writing is simple and yet engaging. She skillfully paints a vivid picture of Jacob Hills. 

The book is fast-paced and there is never a lull. May be I would say I expected a more logical closure for Bunny episode, and felt Bunny’s friend Junaira’s case was also a bit vague. Besides, we don’t get to know too much of either Major Alex or Captain Rana. However, these minor issues don’t take away from the overall impact the book creates.  

I enjoyed the book thoroughly. I finished it in 4 hours (that must say a lot about the book). It was a compelling read. I found the Army background quite interesting. I recommend it wholeheartedly for casual reading.

A few lines from the book:   

The woman who can’t be tamed by force can be tamed by sex. It’s the ultimate violation of a woman’s psyche, it shames her into silence.”

I wanted to tell him that there are no real women, just as there are no real men.”

It’s tough being a child in an adult’s world, every day their innocence dies a little.”

Review Book courtesy: HarperCollins India
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  1. Glad u loved it :) And yes a little more elaboration on those episodes might have added a few stars but then theek hai...:)

    1. Actually, I decided to read only after reading your review. Don't regret it :-)
      Yes there were a few minor loose ends but the overall storytelling was gripping.

  2. Seems to be a really interesting book. Surely will have finish reading this one before the end of the month.
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