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by Guido Mina di Sospiro
| Terrorism-Islamic, separatist and Islamic/separatist-is at the core of the novel.
Fermo, an underpaid editor working for Venice's daily paper, while rummaging through the international section of foreign newspapers comes to suspect a problem of potentially devastating world-wide consequences unfolding under the warm skies of South India. He names this problem his "Perplexity", and soon becomes obsessed with it. In a hilly section in the heart of the Tamil Nadu, a fascinating, elusive and unscrupulous female leader-Mohini-harbours ill-concealed separatist ambitions. And practices the ancient custom of polyandry, which consists of having more than one husband at one time. This does not fail to annoy part of the local population: Muslims who have recently settled on this highland from Bangladesh. Friction, as well as political and religious manipulation, escalates between the two factions and seems bound to become explosive.
Fermo alerts his famous friend, Benso sans-Avoir della Spada. The latter is an odd mix between Don Quixote and James Bond, or, a Byronic hero decidedly too romantic for the sake of good taste and modern times. For example, the language he speaks is magniloquent, thundering and unfailingly archaic. However, he does have a knack for disentangling intricate international crises, always and solely in a manner as theatrical as it is daring. To that he devotes his life, with the selflessness of a paladin though not without being rewarded by fame and wealth.
Benso and Fermo are joined by the swooningly beautiful German model, Bavaria, who has recently decided she no longer wants to be in front of the camera, but rather behind it, as a photographer. The two of them, she as a photographer, he as a reporter, team up and travel to India, for a rendezvous with Benso.
India becomes the stage for a series of interwoven, exhilarating adventures. The springboard for much of the conflict is the ill-placated yearning for national independence that ferments throughout the Indian subcontinent, from Kashmir to Sri Lanka. The narrative, an epic that is yet not immune from some comical overtones, involves not only the reader, as it is conveyed from a Western perspective thanks to Fermo's articles and Bavaria's photos, but the entire subcontinent. At first, through an escalation of tension; then with an uneasy truce; finally-as New Delhi fails to intervene due to its paralysingly slow democratic process-through an archery contest reminiscent of both the Ramayana and the Odyssey. The wholly unexpected outcome of such a contest makes things precipitate, inopportunely and irreversibly alike.
Follows a succession of escapes, counter-escapes, disguises, chases, abductions, all supplemented by a teeming array of and subplots and secondary characters. Some of these reappear in different circumstances, as told either by the national and international press, or by the very "heroes" (and heroines), strewn by different tribulations all over India. Towards the end, the two heroines hide together in the "City of Festivals and Temples", while the two heroes, who are actively, indeed obsessively seeking them, form a twosome that calls to mind Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. That is, in a post-modern version, or better, as Fermo would have it, "post-atomic". But the man hunt, and above all the… woman hunt, does not cease, leading directly and unstoppably to a grand finale in which Mohini, indeed the novel's primadonna, positively shocks the reader with a double surprise.
It remains to be said that the novel's true "hero" is Mohini, a character of immense complexity and charm. Finally, the novel is set in 1986-87, and its preface is the much trumpeted Calcutta Quran Petition, of 1985, in which a private citizen, quoting directly from the Quran, petitioned the High Court of Calcutta to ban the book, as it incites war.
|La ringrazio tanto per il Suo testo, un bilico avvincente tra culture, tallonato dal Suo evidente grande amore per l'india. La ringrazio perché il Suo libro insegna molto, insegna e sdrammatizza. Bellissima la sua Mohini, un po' gliela invidio...