I love it when a book I’ve not quite got to earlier, turns out to be unexpectedly really very good. Except I wonder about my own delaying tactics sometimes.
Siddhartha Sarma’s The Grasshopper’s Run is like an Alistair MacLean for teens, with India in its heart. And better. I didn’t realise before what kind of book it is. If I had I wouldn’t have waited. Although if I hadn’t saved it – however mistakenly – I wouldn’t have discovered it now. Now it fits perfectly with my Indian theme.
Set in Assam in 1944 immediately prior to the war in Burma escalating, it partly features MacLean style British military people, but mostly it is about the locals in this part of East Assam. The natives, who are not terribly highly thought of by either the British or the Japanese. It’s the cruelty – and stupidity – of one Japanese Colonel which is at the centre of this story.
The book begins with the slaughter of every person in a small Naga village, by the Colonel’s soldiers, and the rest of the story deals with the revenge taken by neighbouring native groups. They get together to cooperate on this, unlike how things used to be.
The main character is a 15-year-old boy, the son and grandson of someone important. His best friend died in the massacre, and they were clearly two remarkable teenage boys, well trained by their elders. This comes in very handy for finding one specific Japanese Colonel in the haystack of the Naga Hills.
Siddhartha has done a great deal of research and his knowledge of both the war and of the Naga tribes feels genuine. For any reader who might believe that ‘natives’ are simple, it’s time to think again.
There is something terribly satisfying about revenge, when it’s done for all the right reasons. This a truly exciting book, and most informative for the European reader. I knew nothing about Assam. And the mind boggles when you learn that the Brahmaputra river ‘here narrowed till it was little more than a mile across.’ That’s some river!