Tarun Tejpal’s is not a name to be taken lightly, his crime has left everybody wondering what happened to the man they all claimed to know.
Nevertheless, just like a man’s good qualities do not redeem his bad ones, the bad ones cannot overshadow the good. In that spirit, we look at The Valley of Masks.
Tejpal has written a truly original book, whose scope traverses the obvious landscapes and takes us into philosophical dimensions without becoming dense, dry or drivel.
It ends with a punchline that made me get up, find a post-it note, and cover the conclusion so that anyone who tried to glimpse how the story ended (I often do that) would fail. Such is the power of the narration.
The first aspect of the book is its duality. On the surface, The Valley of Masks is the story of the life of a being. A non-human being. In reality it is the story of humans and the inevitable tragedy of the human condition.
Tejpal recounts the natural story of a group of “people” who decide to unite and live together. With that, hiding just under the surface of what we are told, is the story of people who cannot live together. It brings to the fore the flaw in every flawless decision, the problem is every solution and the reaction created by every action. The astute reader will see reflections of religion and statecraft, the two oldest modes of uniting people. In this book are structures and actions that bear reflections of the bygone USSR and the still around North Korea, of al-Qaida, and — without prejudice — the RSS, the Mahabharata and, if you stretch it a bit, MNREGA.
With sprinklings that instinctively remind you of past masterpieces such as Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and Plato’s Republic, as well as Charles Dickens’ “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times”, The Valley of Masks earns it price in full even before you have crossed the half-way mark.
What the book ultimately leaves us with though, is not duality, but cyclicality. It starts with persecution, probably the first event that drove man to unite. It ends with persecution, which could well be the last event in the division of humanity.
Reading Recommendation: This is not a book for people starting out reading fiction. But if you are anywhere in even the intermediate level, buy immediately, and start reading ASAP. You shall regret nothing. Even if you do not understand the deeper issues, the story itself is supremely engaging.