OK. This is the second book I’ve read by Indra Das, and I guess I should just go ahead and admit from now that I have an odd relationship with his books. I love the premise of the stories and love the writing, so I begin the book engaged, but at some point, even if it’s a novella like this one and is less than 200 pages, I’ll get lost in the narrative and won’t fully grasp what’s going on, but I’ll keep reading anyway because I love the prose.
slated for June 30, 2023
(I read an ARC.)
Ru is a boy from nowhere. Though he lives somewhere–the city of Calcutta–his classmates in school remind him he doesn’t look like them, and must come from somewhere else. When Ru asks his parents, they tell him they are descended from nomads. But even nomads must come from somewhere. The question, forever on the mind of the boy from nowhere, is where.
Ru dreams things that wouldn’t seem out of place in the fantasy novels his father read to him when young. Fragments of a culture that doesn’t exist in this world, but might in another, where sky and sea are one, and humans sail this eternal ocean on the backs of divine beasts.
Ru dreams of dragons, of serpents impossible.
Perhaps Ru remembers dragons. Alone in a city that’s home but doesn’t feel like it, Ru befriends Alice, his neighbor from the nearby Chinatown. As they grow with their friendship, Ru finds that Calcutta may yet be a home for him. But with his best friend starting to realize that Ru’s house and family hide a myriad of secrets, the question haunts him still–where is his family from? Are they truly from nowhere, migrants to this reality? And if so, what strange wings brought them across the vast reaches of impossibility to here–and what is their purpose? (Goodreads)
The Last Dragoners of Bowbazar is a coming-of-age story set in Calcutta, India, about a boy raised in a most intriguing family. Ru’s parents and grandmother are nomads who have a close relationship with dragons, which are real to them. Although they try to teach Ru about their culture, they often ply him with the Tea of Forgetfulness to avoid steeping him too much in their beliefs. It’s an interesting story, relayed in just a few pages, as this is a novella. And although it’s slow paced, the prose easily draws you in.
Of course, the prose is what I liked and admired the most, and also what I paid the most attention to as I read. I thought the story was OK, but I wasn’t that interested in it. The protagonist didn’t appeal to me, and the quiet nature of the story didn’t excite me either. So what kept me reading was my admiration of Das’s writing. Actually, I don’t think I paid close attention to the plot until about close to the end, which was bitter-sweet for me and left me feeling sad.
Other things I liked include the story’s focus on a person torn between two worlds, as Ru is pulled between this world (our world) and that of his parents’, which he learns about from their stories and what they teach him — what lingers after the effects of the Tea of Forgetfulness. But Ru is also treated as an outsider by almost everyone except his best friend, his neighbor Alice, because of how he looks and that he’s unable to say where exactly he’s from. In this way, I think readers who’ve ever felt displaced could relate to some of Ru’s struggles.
The dragons were interesting as well and were presented in a new way to me. Not so much the large, talking, fiery beasts we usually get in fantasy. Instead, they are almost spiritual beings in Das’s book, but not exactly that either. I guess I think of them as spiritual since, to me, it seems that Ru’s family connect to them in a spiritual sense, on a spiritual level. I liked that. They seem to have a symbiotic relationship with the dragons: caring for them and in turn being cared by them — even being able to eat of the dragons.
Overall: ★★☆☆☆ ½
Although my rating is somewhat low, I would recommend the story. I rate based on enjoyment, and although I liked parts of this and admire the writing, I didn’t enjoy reading it so much to rate it higher.