Book Review: ‘Blood Brothers’


Blood Brothers

Author: Chandini Santosh
Dhauli Books, Bhubaneshwar, Odisha- 751002, 
₹ 495.00 INR
ISBN:978-93-893822-2-8

Reviewed by Gopal Lahiri, Poet and Critic, Kolkata, India

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Unsettling and Intense

Chandini Santosh’s latest novel ‘Blood Brothers’ writes about commoners’ life, about two souls in tumult, whose lives have not turned out the way they’ve hoped. Like in her previous novel ‘The House of Oracles’ the setting is again Kannur, North Kerala but the narrative moves from exploration of longing and vulnerability within the four walls to the dark and dirty environs of the political besmirch. The narrative spans a decade and the story excavates the lower depth of our society. She never falters in her chronicle, and her fluid prose is suggestive of broader and darker human themes. 

Gopal Lahiri

Part of the joy of reading Chandini over the years has been her capacity for revelation, be in prose or in poetry. She has a gift for capturing the seemingly small moments in ‘Blood Brothers’ that speak volumes about love and friendship with gripping precision. Though it is not a new theme, she is very successful in reminding us of the kaleidoscope of apparently inexplicable mixtures of political colouration across the landscape. The title captures the collection’s essence, its mixture of the strange and the mundane.

The protagonists in the novel are Biju and Sunil growing up together and their friendship strives to flourish in the face of the political forces that will crush them at the end. This decade long political revenge killings of Malabar region reflect on the characters of bigwigs like Dasan Thilanur, the secretary of the Hindu National Party and his bitter rival Viswan Meloth, the Marxist Minister, Valsan Maroli, Hindu leader and landlord. Maroli’s deaf daughter has been saved by Biju from drowning and this has led to Biju and Sunil’s entry into politics. 

The bitter rivalry between- ‘Marxist red on one side, Hindu saffron on the other side’ continues as the story unfolds with time. For all its lofty ideas, the imperial legacy underpins violence in the political battle. The friendship ultimately has gone sour and the two young men get separated in a political turmoil, becomes rival but meet at the point of bloody culmination. Biju is fiery and dare devil while Sunil is soft and mild while Sunil’s sister Sindhu loves and worships Biju for his bold nature. 

The novelist, by digging into their deeds and their lives, their coming together and coming apart, finds those discrepancies and idiosyncrasies that paint a memorable and nuanced portrait. She probes the violence and vulgarity that lurk beneath the surface of God’s own country and she has infused the narrative with roving details. In an effort to heal the wounds, the struggles of her characters help us understand how we work. There are moments of epiphany gracefully expressed, especially in regard to how people affect one another.

The Marxist party office, perched above the teashop on her right, hummed with activity. In the dim yellow light from inside the shop below, she saw men walk in and out like caterpillars, the samovar in the corner having known no rest for the past two days, comrades who went up and comrades who came down gulping down scalding hot tea, and biting into juicy fried bananas, nicknamed ‘petit bourshua’ items in private, relishing them along with hot news from the killing fields on both sides of the divide.

Meena Kandasamy has rightly pointed out in the blurb,’ An intense, sharp novel, Blood Brothers portrays the lifelong friendship of two young boys growing up in the backdrop of ruthless political violence. Chandini’s lyrical prose, lush with description, brings alive the tumultuous landscape where Marxists and Hindu fundamentalists continue to be at war.’

Here the author unlocks a world of political battle, murder, plots and apocalypse. The novel stands out for revealing the murky world of politics and power, of love and separation, of psyche and its boundaries. The result is a mind-boggling masterpiece, held together by Chandini’s gifts of wit, imagination and suspense. Any reader who navigates the many twists and turns and surprises in this complex tale will come away recognizing the power of politics.

The river shimmered beneath the sky. Biju had been lying on the dark rocks with the dog beside him, his stomach complaining at times, and bright petunia blooms flying over the eyes, brimming with the past.

At the Borstal, he could see a colourless patch of sky, when they worked in the garden, assisting the old gardener, a lifer on death row, who tended to the chrysanthemums and gerbera in front and cabbage and yam at the back, Biju waived away memories that rose like soot inside a chimney.

There are some genuinely moving episodes. Curious, sometimes inexplicable situations abound, but at their core are human weaknesses and struggles in all their familiar beauty. It is a searing expose and walks the line between secrecy and interiority. Chandini finds a remarkably immersive way to pull the readers in even closer, one that’s both emotionally connecting and craftily realised. It’s quite difficult to recall a political thriller told with such distressing efficacy as well as such specific distinction, showing us the horrors stuck to the ordinary life. 

The novelist is proficient at playing with perspective, investigating into the minds of mystifying, sometimes disquieting characters. It is what she does not say on the surface-the darkness in the novel- that gives the narrative that rippling quality of something alive, something still unfurling.

‘It is destiny. There is no escaping it,’ Sunil whispered.

For a moment, utter darkness surrounded them before the lights and sighs of night took over; streetlights coming on one by one, the bank of the river, till now deserted, coming to life as men, women and shouting children converged on the boats with fresh catch of mackerels.

‘Yes, destiny! Biju said.

‘Destiny,’ they murmured.

The book in which rigor and readability walk arm in arm, culminates in a gripping finale and cast its spell on the reader. It is a compelling treatise on a world we know about its sinister effect and the matchless human unsureness that lurks in every heart.

Chandini Santosh is a fine writer with a curious mind, a sharp eye for the detail and a skill in knitting together disparate threads to build the convincing characters with the narrative achieving a sort of appealing charm. As a piece of work it is just about magical in the way it is done.

This delightfully readable novel with its human elements offers us the chance to submerge in the amazing political whirlpool and at the same time forces us to engross and is definitely a worth buy.


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