Just finished reading Siddhartha Deb’s Surface. For anyone, publisher, hack reviewer, omnivorous reader or ex-Babu, who faces a daily stack of books in the inbox instead of a daily stack of files, there’s a moment you look forward to, the silent “yes” moment. It happens when instead of pretentious junk or boring twaddle or yet another could’ve-been-a-contender, you come across a book that makes your day. The book doesn’t have to be perfect or even a masterpiece in order to do this: sometimes you hear the silent “yes” go off in your head when you know as surely as it’s possible to know that the author wrote the book he really, really wanted to write, as well as he could write it. I’ll post a review later, but here’s what Tabish Khair has to say about Surface:
“What surfaces, to begin with, in Deb’s Surface is a photo. It features a woman flanked by two masked, gun-wielding “insurgents” and on the back is the caption: “The MORLS leadership today exhibited a porn film actress as an example and warning to the people of the state. They shot her as punishment to impress upon the people the importance of desisting from all corrupt activities encouraged by Indian imperialism …”
The photo is recovered from an old news file by Amrit Singh, a turban-less, Calcutta-based Sikh journalist, who has been surfing the bubbles of daily journalism for years and now wants to dive deeper. The photo (and other factors) takes Amrit to the “region” – unspecified but easy to locate generically in the northeast of India – where he uncovers a story in which nothing is as it appears on the surface…
The comparison to Naipaul, Conrad and Graham Greene that the publicity material suggests is, for once, justified, though for various reasons it is Greene who, with his possibilities of redemption in a bleak world, comes most often to mind.”





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