Ashok K. Banker – Siege Of Mithila

Siege Of Mithila (2003) is the second novel of Ashok K. Banker‘s modern rendition of the Ramayana, an epic poem of Hindu mythology. The novel is a direct continuation of the first novel, Prins Of Ayodhya, and with me reading the second novel straight after it, there was no feeling of transition. His prose was easy to read and as usual interspersed with Indian terms, although there were much less new ones, making it easier for the reader to keep track of everything.

The pace of the plot remains somewhat slow, although there is plenty of story. Banker does not hang on to one or a limited number of points of view, but uses any that he sees fit to use. This provides variation in the narrative although it also means giving each central character some extensive showtime so that not that much happens actually. The many points of view has the negative effect that Banker has limited time to explore certain characters. After their introduction in the first books the familiar characters did not get more depth. Of course Banker is limited in some sense by epic poem the story is based on. He can give the characters more depth by the interpretation of the poem, but by going further he risks making them different as he explores new areas.

As I have not read the Ramayana I can only guess at what Banker adds of his own and where he follows the poem more strictly. My attempts to do so have been somewhat hard. There are certain developments and scenes in the story that do not seem to fit that well into the flow of story. I can only assume that Banker is trying to stick as true as possible to the poem and is bound by the scenes and events that take place at certain points. In some he has more freedom, which results a more solid narrative, while in others he seems unable to find the right balance. It didn’t happen very often and it were the only times that I was not much satisfied with the plot development. The downside of sticking to the poem as strictly as possible is that certain plot developments seem silly or shaky as the characters do not behave as they should, based on how they have been presented before that. My conclusion thus is that the weaknesses in the story are not Banker’s but from the original poem itself that gives problems to render in a modern rendition.

The whole setting in ancient India and the different cultural aspects that as a Western reader I’m unfamiliar with do provide a refreshing, original and sometimes fascinating read. Siege Of Mithila is not as good as the first novel, but still a fine read with plenty of enjoyable scenes and moments.

 

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