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'A Tiger for Malgudi' by R.K. Narayan

R.K. Narayanís A TIGER FOR MALGUDI (1983) is an unusual book and full of charm. †Set in India, itís the autobiography of a tiger, Raja, told by him in old age (and with a wonderful command of the English language) as he lies in a zoo cage. He is a tiger possessed of the soul of an enlightened human being. His life is full of adventures, beginning with his forest days. Heís captured by a circus owner, Captain, who teaches him tricks. Raja has a grudging respect for Captain who treats him well for the most part. But life takes a more unpleasant turn when film-makers attempt to use Raja in a film from which torment he escapes. Raja is then befriended by a holy man who can communicate with him, and with whom he lives a life of peace and meditation. The guru employs his powers to save the tiger and transform him inwardly. †ĎA Tiger for Malgudií is a strange book, a kind of Hindu fable, below the surface of which lie philosophical questions about what makes humans humans and animals animals. How much real difference is there? Does reincarnation exist? Is being a tiger a higher or lower form of existence? Itís a very characteristic Narayan book, full of his quiet observation of people and their frequently absurd behaviour. There is some lovely humour. †I particularly enjoyed the scenes where Raja is trapped in a school in the headmasterís office and the townspeople discuss and try various methods of dealing with the situation. Itís a short, very entertaining novel, full of incident and quickly read. Narayan sums up the theme of his book in his introduction. ĎThe core of personality is the same in spite of differing appearances and categories, and with the right approach you could expect the same response from a tiger as any normal human being.í A unique book. †

I am a great admirer of Narayan, but I haven't read this one yet. From your description, it sounds like the kind of thing only Narayan could pull off. He writes with such charm and elegance, and with such apparent ease, that one can almost imaine that novel-writing is actually quite an easy thing to do. But generally, I find, his simplicity is only apparent: nothing in his novels is quite as simnple as it seems.

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