Saturday, June 19, 2010

Review: Tiger Moon

Tiger Moon
Tiger Moon, by Antonia Michaelis (translated by Anthea Bell), was recommended to me (I don't know remember by whom) as a good example of fantasy fiction set in India.  I quickly snagged it from Amazon and thought it would be a perfect book to take with me on my trip to India.  I read it there and really enjoyed it, though my cover has a very light-skinned girl on it.  I am not going to call that "white-washing," however, as Indians themselves are so obsessed with having light skin that for a girl to qualify as "beautiful" basically means she has to be albino, and as the girl in the book is supposedly gorgeous, no doubt she had very fair skin.

But I digress.

Tiger Moon is an Arabian Nights-esque fairy tale.  A young woman, Safia, is stolen from her home by a besotted man who spirits her away to join his harem.  She dreads her wedding night as she knows she will be killed after it; she is not a virgin.  Luckily for her, her husband takes ill and she has just a few days to plan her escape.

She begins weaving a story for the court eunuch, Lalit, about another young woman, a daughter of the god Krishna, who was captured by the demon Ravana (of Ramayana fame).  Krishna and the other Hindu gods have lost power over the years and so Krishna cannot save his daughter himself- he must enlist the help of a human.  He decides on a thief, Farhad Kamal, and gifts him with a white tiger to speed his journey.  As Raka tells her story over three nights, fact and fiction begin to merge and readers end the story with a strong sense of the power of story-telling.

Tiger Moon
If I had read this book fifteen years ago, I would have loved it unreservedly.  At my current age, I enjoyed it, but the magic wasn't quite there.  I liked the story, but I am a little tired of the Arabian Nights motif in Eastern stories.  I feel it is overdone (and now feel that I shouldn't read The Hakawati until I get over this).

That said, Michaelis did very well in telling this story!  She lived in India for some years, and I felt she was comfortable in her setting, though I certainly think there was a European bent to it.  For example, she mentioned how guests at Indian weddings often chat through the ceremony and mill around, not really paying any attention to the proceedings, which is spot on.  However, the general atmosphere of the book seemed very Eurocentric to me in a way I can't quite put my finger on.  It was like a European movie about India, if that makes sense.  Rather than an Indian movie about India.  Like Slumdog Millionaire, maybe?

I also really enjoyed the way Michaelis weaved this story together.  It got very interesting towards the end when disparate stories began merging and tangling with each other, and I think if I had been twelve or thirteen, I would have been absolutely captivated by her method.  She was very clearly in control of her plot the whole way through, and I appreciate her ability to tell a good tale.  This book was also wonderfully translated by Anthea Bell.  I didn't find it in the least awkward or difficult to follow.  It read very quickly and I was interested the entire way through.  I recommend this for fans of fairy tales, folklore or young adult novels.  Also for fans of Rudyard Kipling's Kim, which I haven't read before but apparently has a very similar premise.

Minor quibble:  Safia and Farhad Kamal are supposedly Hindu characters, but I feel they have very Muslim names.


  1. I have heard that they want to be whiter than white, wonder if I would be white enough, I am really pale, but then we have like no sun for 6 months.

    I guess it sounds like a cute little story

  2. Reading books I would have loved as a kid but don't love now depresses me a little bit. Partly because I missed the train on that particular book, and partly because I thought I was ever-so-discerning a reader as a child, and now I realize I was not. :p

  3. This book was on my TBR for over a year because a goodreads friend named Carter read it and it sounded interesting. In my ruthless TBR culling back in May, I got rid of it. Ought I to return it to the list? I'm a little torn on it.

  4. I haven't read Arabian Nights, but I do have a copy of it on my shelves. I think this book sounds like one that my younger self would have loved as well, and the only really good thing about that is that it is probably perfect for my daughter. I like to expose her to all sorts of literature, and to my great joy, am finding out that she is starting to prefer foreign and culturally diverse literature. Yay!! I also don't get the whole turning of the main character on the cover a blinding shade of white. You would think with all the discord that this has caused in the past that publishers would stop doing that stuff!

  5. This sounds really good, even if a little too Arabian Nights.

  6. Anonymous6/19/2010

    This sounds good. Somehow, reading that it was similar to Kipling's Kim makes me hesitate. I haven't read Kim, but I felt his short stories were a bit much for me, I was quite annoyed with them for the ideas on women and other ethnicities (although the latter might be more of a sign of the times in which they were written?)

  7. I enjoyed this one very much. And I'm also a fan of Kim--it too has that written by a European-ness to it, but it's so full of description and thick story and sense of place and vivid characters that it makes the India of that time come vividly to life. As Tiger Moon does.

    And Kim is a whole different kettle of fish than Kipling's short stories!

  8. Oh, I'm sorry that you feel you need to postpone reading "The Hakawati"! I can understand the feeling of wanting to mix up your reading, though.

    I read "Kim" and liked it, but it was such a long time ago that I'd have to re-read it to recall any of it.

  9. This was my favourite read of this past year. I haven't read a lot of things in a similar vein, so it seemed refreshingly original to me (albeit with the obvious Arabian Nights similarities).

    As for it being too European, wasn't it supposed to take place in British India? I would expect some European influence because of that.

  10. Jenny- LOL. I know that feeling :-)

    Amanda- I am not sure if you would like it or not, actually. I think you'd probably prefer an original version of the Arabian Nights to this.

    Iris- YES, I feel much the same about Kipling. And even if it was just a "sign of his times," that doesn't mean it can't annoy us now :-P

    Valerie- I recently read Hakawati and really enjoyed it, so I think I'm over the whole Arabian Nights tiredness thing!

    La Coccinelle- Maybe that was it, that I read too many things similar to it in too short a time? I don't know. I am also very sensitive to India as a setting in books.

    I am not sure about whether or not it took place in British India or before the Raj (or in a place not under control of the Raj). But as the story takes place in India with Indian characters and with a heavy eastern storytelling influence from Arabian Nights, I didn't think there would be SO much Europe in it.


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