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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Seven Sixes are Forty-Three

Kiran Nagarkar

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To purchase Seven Sixes are Forty-Three

Title: Seven Sixes are Forty-Three
Author: Kiran Nagarkar
Genre: Novel
Written: 1974 (Eng. 1980)
Length: 308 pages
Original in: Marathi
Availability: Seven Sixes are Forty-Three - US
Seven Sixes are Forty-Three - UK
Seven Sixes are Forty-Three - Canada
Seven Sixes Are Forty-three - India
Sieben mal sechs ist dreiundvierzig - Deutschland
  • Marathi title: सात सक्कं त्रेचाळीस
  • Translated by Shubha Slee
  • The Harper Collins (India) re-issue includes essays by Ritu Menon and the author

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Our Assessment:

B+ : impressive, twisting plunge into the personal and the country-at-the-time

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 30/11/2007 Tilmann Lahme
India Today . 30/4/1996 Radhika Tandon
NZZ . 30/10/2007 Angela Schader
Sunday Times . 25/6/1995 Ian Critchley

  From the Reviews:
  • "Elendsprosa ist der Roman dennoch nicht, zumindest nicht in erster Linie, und dies liegt an seiner unerhörten Lakonie und Komik. Auch an seiner Mitleidlosigkeit. (...) Schließlich gleitet der Roman, eine grandiose Reise durch ein Land von Liebe und Schmerz, auch für seinen Helden in die Gewalt ab, unvermittelt, und endet in ihr. Als hätte Nagarkar 1974 schon geahnt, dass in Indien wenig besser, aber vieles schlimmer kommen werde." - Tilmann Lahme, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Nagarkar's book is like a collection of fragments that occasionally merge and flow into each other, at other times floating by themselves so you're never quite certain if what has been read is intended as part of the narrative or merely an imaginary aside. There is a constant strain in following where the author goes; creating an unrespiteful sense of effort rather than of stimulation. A stream of consciousness sort of literary effort perhaps, but one that fails to capture the imagination of the reader." - Radhika Tandon, India Today

  • "Sieben mal sechs ist dreiundvierzig ist eine so wütende wie witzige Abrechnung mit der Armut, mit scheiternder Liebe und der überwältigenden Indifferenz irdischer wie himmlischer höherer Instanzen -- eine Abrechnung, die zwangsläufig nicht aufgehen kann. (...) Betrachtet man allein die Handlungsebene, erscheint Sieben mal sechs ist dreiundvierzig tatsächlich vorab als ein Labyrinth von Sackgassen, in dem sich der Protagonist, von ewigem Mangel getrieben, unrettbar verläuft; schenkt man dagegen der Sprache des Romans Gehör, dann wird man in diesem Erstlingswerk Sensibilität und Humor, eine proteische Phantasie und eine differenzierte, flexible literarische Stimme finden." - Angela Schader, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Logically and rationally, it doesn't add up, but Nagarkar's nihilistic vision creates its own rules and its own truth." - Ian Critchley, Sunday Times

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:

       As its title already suggests, Seven Sixes are Forty-Three doesn't quite add up. Chapters and sections aren't presented in chronological order, as narrator Kushank Purandare recounts episodes from the nearer and more distant past. The focus is on his student and early adult years, but childhood scenes are also returned to repeatedly; while some stories, in particular of relationships with women, are more or less seen through, there's only a limited sense of progress, personal or otherwise, to the novel as a whole. Several stories take up significant parts of the novel, but it remains as much a collage as a coming-of-age account.
       Throughout, readers are simply thrust into (often well-advanced) scenes, without preamble or explanation, the characters, relationships, and conflicts only gradually revealing themselves. Death and violence -- threatened and real -- figure prominently, beginning with the awful events of the opening section, in which the narrator is little more than bystander and conduit, impotent against the greater forces and personal limitations (in others) that will frustrate him at so many other turns as well. The narrator notes early on: "It's an unreliable world", but awareness of this doesn't make life any easier to navigate.
       Kushank recounts several of his deeply involved relationships with women that extend to marriage proposals and engagements, but outside forces -- notably family, who seek (and generally manage) to control daughters -- prove to be near-impossible hurdles. (He's not the only one: friend Rakesh's relationship with Sita draws the ire of her family, including an angry brother who mistakes Kushank for Rakesh -- though Kushank manages to see to it that for once an interfering brother gets what he deserves). Often the relationships are introduced in scenes of separation and departure: "'I'm off, Kushank,' she said and left forever" the dying Prachinti says, for example, while: "It was the last time I saw Aaroti", introduces his complex relationship with that woman.
       Long-time love Aaroti is first encountered when Kushank is staying with her -- and her husband and two children ! --, with the arc of their relationship as students only then filled in -- it's hopelessness already clear from that first domestic scene that shows how things have turned out (even if Kushank still struggles to let go, despite Aaroti obviously having accepted her lot (which by then includes the two kids)). Chandani is another woman Kushank gets close to but whose family interferes to such an extent that they can't keep together, the pressures of tradition too great.
       Just as he isn't able to settle down with any woman -- even if that is often for reasons beyond his control or influence -- Kushank is generally adrift. At university he doesn't seem particularly focused on his studies, and while he immerses himself in some writing projects, including an ambitious book, doesn't really seem to be able to find much of a hold. At one point he joins an engineer friend, Raghu, who works for an NGO and is working on well-digging projects in the countryside, but the hopelessly impoverished and corrupt backwater is almost impossible to work in. This is one of the most self-contained longer episodes in the novel -- and ends with a quick paragraph that has them both finally succeeding (they strike water) and failing completely (because the powers that be -- the only powers in that lawless area -- can't accept their success).
       Lack of money is a constant, as Kushank is limited in much that he can do because he has practically no money; it is also one of the reasons he doesn't marry, the women he wants to be with understanding how much of a burden destitution can be on even the greatest love. Power structures -- whether family or state -- are also crushingly dominant. The worst is not always his own personal experience, but he recalls the neighbors where the father beat the wife and children -- and the book does conclude in first tumult and then Kushank at the mercy of a brutal police, mistaken for a Muslim and beaten to a pulp.
       Kushank is bookish, but only periodically completely lost in literature; when he is at university his landlady at one point -- amusingly and surprisingly -- confronts him:

Why don't you look after yourself ? I know you read a lot, your room is full of books. Why don't you spend a bit of time living ? Instead of living through books. Fool, that's what you are, a fool. That Canetti of yours, Halldór Laxness, Pär Lagerkvist, I've read them all. When you're not here, I borrow your books. Some of them write beautifully, some a re just a load of rubbish. However, they can look after themselves. Take books in stride. You're here to live, not to worship books.
       His friendships and relationships tend to be more individual, as he remains marginal in most settings, but occasionally there are hints of the larger crowds and the darkness that lurks there -- such as when they're digging the well, or in the novel's final scenes. So also, when visiting a friend at university in Banaras, Kushank admires the campus but notes also that the male-only environment is stifling:
Only one thing was taboo -- women. Girls, women, females. And that's all they ever talked about. Twenty-four hours of the day, even as they studied. Studied, swore, and talked about women. Over and over and over. Till the words ran out and tongues fell limp and ears grew numb. Talk, talk, talk, but never a woman in sight.
       Yet even Kushank gets caught up in their frenzy, yet another scene of how difficult it is to keep powers and passions in check in this stifling society.
       There are powerful episodes and stories in Seven Sixes are Forty-Three. It can seem a loose, unfocused collection of memories, revealing about Kushank yet also managing to avoid some of the harder questions by changing track and tack yet again. But Nagarkar's writing and character-examination is powerful throughout, and Shubha Slee's translation reads convincingly well. Depths are well-plumbed here, and even Nagarkar's tendency to shift quickly away is fairly effective. Yes, Seven Sixes are Forty-Three is a bit of a jumble, but it's an impressive portrait of a young, educated but relatively poor "genteel, barely lower middle class man" and the state of India in the late 1960s.

- M.A.Orthofer, 11 October 2018

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Seven Sixes are Forty-Three: Reviews: Kiran Nagarkar: Other books by Kiran Nagarkar under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Indian literature

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About the Author:

       Indian author Kiran Nagarkar lived 1942 to 2019.

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© 2018-2021 the complete review

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