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the Complete Review
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In Times of Siege

Githa Hariharan

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To purchase In Times of Siege

Title: In Times of Siege
Author: Githa Hariharan
Genre: Novel
Written: 2003
Length: 206 pages
Availability: In Times of Siege - US
In Times of Siege - UK
In Times of Siege - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B : political correctness in India, decently done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Deccan Herald . 16/2/2003 Kala Krishnan Ramesh
The Hindu . 4/5/2003 Keshav Desiraju
Hindustan Times . . Uma Mahadevan-Dasgupta
The New Yorker . 25/8/2003 .
Outlook India . 24/2/2003 Alok Rai
San Francisco Chronicle . 17/8/2003 Tobin O'Donnell
The Sunday Tribune . 16/3/2003 Manju Jaidka
The Washington Post A 3/8/2003 Caroline Leavitt

  Review Consensus:

  Generally fairly impressed

  From the Reviews:
  • "(T)he book reads almost like a well-crafted thriller, but once the action part takes over, as it does a little past half the book, and we are taken into the tedium of planning and strategizing, the every day actions, the detailed insider view of what the characters are doing, it simply becomes too much, and from then reading is awkward and the book flounders its way to a pathetic anticlimax. But the first half of the book makes it more than worthwhile, and one would not hesitate to strongly recommend it." - Kala Krishnan Ramesh, Deccan Herald

  • "Githa Hariharan is a good novelist and a better activist. She has her priorities right. Read this book." - Keshav Desiraju, The Hindu

  • "The prose is spare and direct even as it tells of Shiv’s confused longing to be back in his office, his safe little world (...) It is only when it must confront the bluster of the Aryas and the stridencies of the Current articles that the prose falters. For, as soon as they enter the picture, everything moves neatly into Us and Them positions" - Uma Mahadevan-Dasgupta, Hindustan Times

  • "The result is an engaging portrait of the mild-mannered professor, who, even as the crisis engulfs him, marvels that his scholarly discipline "has become a live, fiery thing." " - The New Yorker

  • "Githa Hariharan turns out the occasional pedantic paragraph (this is not a book that sits on the political fence), but her deceptively simple prose belies the artistry of her phrasings and she writes with an infectious concern for her characters." - Tobin O'Donnell, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "Hariharan explores all these related issues in a slow, ambulatory manner, lingering over the buzzing of a fly or the humming of a fan or the itch of human flesh imprisoned in a plaster cast. Often the reader would like to hasten her pace but, on second thoughts, the narratorial pace seems to be appropriate for the purpose, quite in tune with the cerebral numbness experienced by the main protagonist, the mental paralysis produced by events beyond one’s control." - Manju Jaidka, The Sunday Tribune

  • "Does the past create the future, or can we make up the past we need to get the future we want ? That's the question George Orwell addressed in his classic 1984, and the one Githa Hariharan revises in her wonderfully sly and subversive allegory, In Times of Siege. (...) Offering up fascinating details about Indian history, In Times of Siege is heartbreakingly funny, moving and as relevant as today's headlines." - Caroline Leavitt, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       In Times of Siege covers the span of two months (late August - October, 2000) in the life of Shiv Murthy, a fifty-two year old professor of history at Kasturba Gandhi Central University. It's an odd academic setting, with the students kept at a distance: an Open University, where Murthy "no longer teaches students; as his Department head likes to put it, he coordinates resources for his educational clients" -- as it is a correspondence school.
       Two events unsettle Murthy's settled life. He is the "local guardian" for Meena, a student at one of the other Delhi universities whose mother had asked him to watch out for her while she was in Delhi. He has barely done anything for her since she arrived, but when she breaks her knee in an accident she calls on him and he takes her in until she can walk again. Murthy's wife is in America (where their daughter has just landed a job), and so he's left pretty much to deal with the girl alone.
       Equally disruptive is the furour that explodes around some material he prepared for one of his B.A. history courses. Murthy wrote about Basava (also Basavanna), the treasurer of a twelfth-century Hindu city, Kalyana. Basava had egalitarian ideas that threatened the order of the day, undermining the caste system -- though he was ultimately not able to overturn it. This version of history did not appeal to certain Hindu "fundoos" (fundamentalists), and reading it in Murthy's lesson they raise a stink.
       Political correctness is apparently all the rage in India too: "You know our policy is to steer clear of controversy", Murthy is told by the authorities. He's "hurt the sentiments of a Hindu watchdog group", and things must be put right again. But Murthy isn't willing to give in so easily, and he refuses to apologize.
       Events escalate: the militant fundoos make a lot of fuss, the media takes an interest, people inside and outside academia choose sides. Hariharan nicely allows the dispute to unfold, without focussing too narrowly on it: this is a novel about politics and political correctness and academia (and it's clear on which side she stands), but her focus on Murthy, who often remains a bit on the periphery of events, and his day to day life prevents the book from bogging down in petty politics alone.
       Meena enthusiastically takes up Murthy's cause, and is of great help in enlisting help and organizing. The relationship between guardian and ward also becomes a more complicated one -- also nicely handled by Hariharan.
       It all remains an episode -- two months out of his life -- but it brings with it change and some understanding. Central, also, is Murthy's coming to terms with his own father's disappearance many years earlier. A freedom fighter, he apparently couldn't cope with "the burdens of the new world -- the travails of a free India" after independence had been won.
       In Times of Siege floats a bit too vaguely about. This does make for an effective ominous feeling, as already suggested by the title. The events in the novel are fairly small, the violence and unease feeling still distant and unreal (though Murthy's office is torn to pieces, and a guard posted outside his house for a while). It's also appealingly true to life in that there are no easy, triumphant answers, neither regarding how history should be remembered, nor between Meena and Murthy themselves. Still, the novel could have done with a bit more specificity and solidity: more fleshed out scenes, more explanation.
       An interesting novel, but not sure enough of what it wants to be.

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In Times of Siege: Reviews: Githa Hariharan: Other books by Githa Hariharan under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Indian author Githa Hariharan was born in 1954.

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© 2003-2017 the complete review

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