Solo by British-Indian writer Rana Dasgupta is one-of-a-kind, and worth every prize that it has been awarded (including the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize). The book is divided into two parts, into two novellas – almost called “Dreams” and “Day-dreams” respectively.
The first part follows the seemingly pitiable life of a hundred year old man, Ulrich, in Bulgaria. Ulrich has undertaken various endeavours in his life, like music, chemistry and love, and failed at all, miserably so. He has lived through every historic movement in Bulgaria, from the great prosperity to the takeover by the Communists, leading to the eventual death of the country.
Dasgupta very astutely shapes the happenings of Ulrich’s life around the history of Bulgaria. At the end, Ulrich is living alone, blind and taken care of by his neighbours. He is perpetually in a dream-like state, fluctuating between past and the imaginary. How Dasgupta highlights all the inconsequential parts of Ulrich’s life makes the first part of this book extremely engrossing.
The second part of this book is set in Georgia and shows an intersection of three starkly opposing characters – Boris, a musician; Khatuna, a gangster’s mistress and her brother, Irakali. These characters have no connection to Ulrich, but they appear in his day dreams. Several characters intertwine in their lives and shape them, to an unexpected, and maybe quite a bizarre ending.
Dasgupta’s writing style follows a seamless thought process. He writing overwhelms you, taking over your imagination and leaves you breathless, often. The first part is more descriptive of the two, with minimal or no dialogues. The second part is a contrast and has a conversational method that is effective nevertheless. The change is very apparent and takes the reader by surprise.
This book is haunting and spellbinding. One cannot escape the beauty and sheer brilliance of the story. It manages to convert ordinary boring events that one would normally overlook, into something extraordinary and out-of-the-book. The title of the book is based on the protagonist’s life experience that we all come in solo and eventually leave solo. Another quirky bit is the chapter names that amuse and tend to confuse the reader. Along with an excellent story, it provides an excellent account of Bulgaria. And to beat all odds, Ulrich is still alive at the end of this grand tale.
Overall Rating: 9/10
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Chaarvi is a mixture of sugar, spice and everything nice, with just a hint of Chemical X. Or maybe more. Unsure of what to focus on, she has a foot in everything – be it music, movies or books. Or even fashion. Or cooking. Or politics. Or Economics. Well, you get the drift. She is a hater of chick lit and all the riff-raff that comes along with it. Spends too much time on the internet researching on things that will come handy nowhere in life. But in reality, she’s a ninja and you better know it.