The Great Indian Novel
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The Great Indian Novel

3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  2,600 ratings  ·  165 reviews
In this award-winning novel, Tharoor has masterfully recast the two-thousand-year-old epic, The Mahabharata, with fictional but highly recognizable events and characters from twentieth-century Indian politics. Nothing is sacred in this deliciously irreverent, witty, and deeply intelligent retelling of modern Indian history and the ancient Indian epic The Mahabharata. Alter...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published September 1st 2011 by Arcade Publishing (first published 1989)
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And that, I suppose, completes my Goodreads annual reading challenge.

Well, the moment I felt I should write a long review for this book has passed (besides the fact that no one read the one lengthy review I've written till date), so I'll spare the reader who has incidentally stumbled upon this one.

'The Great Indian Novel', Shashi Tharoor's debut work of fiction, is essentially a retelling of the Indian epic Mahabharata, but it falls in the realm of political satire by drawing parallels with majo...more
Review of 'The Great Indian Novel' by Dr.Shashi Tharoor
Shelf: Indian writer,politics,mythology,alltime favourites.
Recommended for: Indophiles.

5*for the last two chapters.
Dr.Tharoor has struck goldmine here: this novel is fail-safe cause of the intricate richness of its source material--the grand epic 'Māhabhārata' with its original dysfunctional family,bedroom politics,palace intrigues & counter intrigues,grand notions of duty,honour,courage,sacrifice,boons & curses ,envy,bitterness,gree...more
Rachel Brown
Very funny, very clever, scathing and intricate, this irreverent mash-up of the Mahabharata with the Indian Independence Movement may not be the Great Indian Novel, but it's certainly a great Indian novel.
May 03, 2013 Gaijinmama rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in India!
Shelves: fiction
I'd actually give this book 4.5 stars or 9 out of 10. I only give 5's to books I'm certain I will want to read again. While this is an excellent read, it does require an investment of time so I probably won't be able to revisit it.
Anyway, it sat on my TBR shelf for nearly 20 years and I am so glad I held on to it!

This story is based on the Mahabaratha, a classic epic of Indian mythology , and is quite a journey: Intense, heartbreaking, beautiful, hilarious. Just like India herself. It encompasse...more
For my generation, fed on Batman's savior tactics and deprived of Yudhistra's innate righteousness, texts such as these bring back the revered concept of Dharma. The last chapter, where Tharoor philosophizes on righteousness with an image of heaven and hell gleaming in the background, truly captures the essence of The Mahabharta or The Great Indian Novel. If you want to know about Gandhiji's ascetic lifestyle or about Nehru's failure translating Fabian principles into action, turn to this book....more
Kislay Verma
From my review at SolomonSays:

TGIN is Shashi Tharoor’s masterful melding of two great Indian obsessions–culture and politics. He takes the story of India’s freedom struggle and recasts it with characters from the great epic Mahabharata. The result is an irreverent historical narrative which is identical yet almost unrecognizable from both the history of school books and the mythical story of ages past. The recast can actually be said to flow both ways, and the story can be seen as a re-playing o...more
Nov 16, 2009 Psmith marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: solid, abandoned
very good book. But only Indians may understand the various nuances in it. The subject matter is greatly linked to India's history - the remote past and the recent past.
I found it very enjoyable - especially connecting the epic characters to our slightly modern freedom fighting ancestors.
It was on my book shelf for nearly 30 months - I regret not starting on it earlier.
Jose Philip
I am greatly impressed by the writing skills of Sashi Tharoor, particulary when you realise that he wrote the book when he was only 30. Also needs to acknowledge the fact that he was born in UK and lived in India as a student only. The story while showcases his writing skills, is bogged down by the impossibility of mixing two completely different stories. Shashi Tharoor's attempts to write the Indian indpendence struggle and early years of independent India using the Mahabharata storyline and it...more
The book portrays the Mahabharata in the context of Indian independence struggle and few decades after the independence. All the important characters of Mahabharata represent prominent real life personalities in this book. It was fun to find out which personality each character represents.
This was a nicely written novel where comparison of each Mahabharata incident with that of real life incident is not that much easy. Also we need to accept the difficulty in getting all the important figures co...more
Jul 11, 2008 Savanna rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People with some knowledge of 20th C Indian history and an appreciation for snarky political humor
Recommended to Savanna by: I stumbled across it when looking for another of Tharoor's books
A great sweeping novel that weaves the mythic characters and events of the Mahabharata into the 20th century Indian political scene. It is frequently more of a political commentary than a novel. Tharoor says at the very beginning, as a sort of disclaimer, that the book is called The Great Indian Novel because it is based on the Mahabharata, which literally translated means "great India." He does not wish to imply that it is a "great" work, and the reader might find it is not necessarily all that...more
The book maps the story and characters of the Mahabharat to those of the Indian freedom struggle and a few decades after it (up until the Emergency). So, Gandhi is Bheeshm, Nehru is Dhritrashtr, Patel is Vidur and so on. It's a nice concept, but the execution stutters and strays after a while. All in all, its a good book to carry along in a journey, its easy to read and full of some interesting observations from the former MoS in MEA. Here are two from the page I have open in front of me. :)

Although I'm not religious, I love books that draw on religious symbolism and allusion. (For example, Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials is rooted in Paradise Lost... love it to death).

So, I really enjoyed the fact that The Great Indian Novel is based on the Mahabharata. Since I know hardly anything ABOUT the Mahabharata, I'm sure a lot of the allegory was lost on me. But it was still a really interesting mish mash of religious stories and 20th century history. Funny, too.

And Tharoor pulls of...more
Himanshu Bhaskar
worth a read....mahabharatha juxtaposed on the modern (post 1900) freedom struggle upto the end of emergency and events thereon coincided wid the turbulations f d epic war.
D best part of the book being the characters representing various institutions. If Indira Gandhi is the portrayal of Priya Duryodhani, it was Mokrasi Draupadi (Democracy), that was humiliated in her court while the Opposition (Arjun), Bheem (Armed Forces), Sahadev (Forein affairs) and Nakul (Bureaucracy) looked from the sideli...more
Pranav S
After reading 'The Great Indian Novel', my respect for Shashi Tharoor has definitely gone up two notches. TGIN is a superbly researched piece of literature which makes you sit up and take notice. The analogies and parallels are crafty and imaginative, to say the least. Tharoor uses two very difficult and sensitive themes (20th century Indian politics and the Mahabharata)and yet does brilliantly to make sure that the energy levels and satire don't vacillate. The characters are funny and yet have...more
Puhoop Agarwal
The Great Indian Novel is an amazing read. While the thought that has gone into the book to draw intelligent parallels between the Mahabharata characters and the Indian Independence movement is extremely interesting the comparisons do seem forced at some points. All in all a must read for a very unique concept that has been written very well. Beware though the book does drag on in the end.
Fantastic. With my limited understanding of early politics of Independent India, I'm not sure how much of this is fabricated. But, from what I do know, this novel read more like a history lesson our Gandhi-Nehru department of education never sanctioned. It took me a while to get through because I compulsively checked the real characters, but what a great use of my time! It's a pity Tharoor quit his non aligned UN job and sullied himself with the same politics he sends up so brilliantly in this n...more
Alex Poovathingal
There are two Indian stories that gets more fresh and more lively each time you hear it. The Tale of Indian Independence and the Mahabharata - the greatest stories India has ever produced. Shashi Tharoor has brought those two together and mixed them in style which resulted in this magical tale.
A novel worth reading! But don't expect too much. It starts generating interest and paces us continuously with interest intact but someway near half way mark I found myself confused and detached. I read this novel due to my interest in Indian politics and Indian history. That way this book does great work as Mr. Tharoor has justified his selection of characters and his philosophy.

You get to have another perspective that you wouldn't even have thought of. Some aspects like the celibacy of Bhishm...more
Hari Donthi
Couldn't go on after Page 60. I thought this would be a really good follow-on to Rushdie's Enchantress of Florence, but was disappointed...
Part two of my recently read trilogy of alt-mythologies is Shashi Tharoor's The Great Indian Novel. This is actually something of a mashup, the characters and happenings of the Sanskrit epic The Mahabharata neatly meshed with Indian politics leading up to independence and onwards to the 1970s.

The story is told as if narrated by one of the central-but-never-too-involved characters late in his life to a gruff younger man. This conceit works in the novel's favour, as the narrator is happy to digres...more
Rishabh Kabra
+ The blending of Gandhi and Bhishma is the book's upmost creative achievement.
+ Though Dhritarashtra and Pandu received roles in excess of their ancient saga, their modern rivalries and glories were well-described. Together with their wives and third brother Vidur, they drove the modern story credibly.
+ Elements like Karna's mystic heroism were used well to decorate the plot.
+ Duryodhana's evil, while slightly less credible in Duryodhani's personage, was attended to sufficiently.

- Some mytholo...more
This is a wonderful book that draws parallels between the great Indian epic Mahabharata and the great Indian war for independance. Tharoor's style of writing is witty and absorbing yet simple and glib. The only reason I am giving 3 instead or 4 or 5-stars is due to the fact that it is very difficult to validate some of the comparisons he has made between the characters in Mahabharata and the characters from the Indian independance era. Of more scepticism are some chapters quoted from the epic. T...more
Prashant Nair
Jun 18, 2014 Prashant Nair rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Sataire loving people
Recommended to Prashant by: Goodreads
Shashi Tharoor one the most articulate Indian author. A masterful combination of storyline of Indian Epic Mahabharata (Which is fiction/non-fiction not proved.) with the true pre and post-independence event. Depicting characters of Mahabharata as all those Congressi people(Names have been changed but abundant amount of indication are given to find out who is who.) is simply genius as well as humorous. All the dark side of Indian independence described in the best satirical way possible.
Sagar Vibhute
An imaginative, cheerful, sometimes melancholy and incredibly engrossing mix of the two histories of India, the actual (what actually happened but puts students to sleep in long dull history classes) and the mythological (what we tell our children at bedtime but it keeps them up wanting to hear more), in a single heady cocktail!

Shashi Tharoor makes a brave and ultimately successful attempt at taking all the exciting elements of the Mahabharatha and weaving them into people, situations, stories a...more
Nirvaan Ghosh
This book is perhaps the most daring attempt at a satirical work on the political history of our country. Mr Tharoor's perfect marriage of the Indian Epic 'Mahabharata' with the timeline between the Indian Independence movement to the Emergency Period successfully makes the timeless Indian tale a contemporary classic.

The subtle and sometimes overt references to historical personages, places, times and movements is refreshing and fun to read. Also characters who do not have historical counterpart...more
Brilliant irreverent, bold satire on Indian politics using Mahabharata as the backdrop....a lot of things our regular history books choose to ignore to maintain the sanctity of prominent leaders.
Love the way he reveals the characters in a subtle yet obvious way – quite creative with analogies. A must read for people who love reading Indian politics history.
Tarun Bahuguna
Tharoor is famous for his wits but to me this book couldn't pass through more than average. I would give this book 5/10. The plot was quite exciting, he tried to mix two of India's most discussed or argued topics. One was the great epic Mahabharata and the other (not so great) politics. Unfortunately, I was a bit too aware of both and to me the book seemed to be quite predictable.

May be the time it was published (more than two decades ago) it had a pleasant charm to it or it still has but I cou...more
It was written in 1989 hence its effect may not be as profound. Its storytelling style has been used in several ways since then, thus making the style a lot mainstream Eg. a movie Rang De Basanti also has same person living two lives in two different eras and both intermingled and overlapping.

Names of person is mix of names from Mahabharata and of Indian politicians. And events are a mix or overlap or extensions of events of the epic or Indian politicians lives

The good thing is it tries...more
There is no better book than this one. I read it about 20 years back and some of the lines are still in memory particularly the poem "It's not easy to be a king....". Later, my friend who read it on my recommendation, gifted me his copy. Wonderful book! Must read for all book lovers.
"India is not a developing country, but a highly developed country in an advanced state of decay"

This book captures Tharoor at his very best. Extremely witty and shifting effortlessly between mythical and historical characters, prose and poetry: he captures the indian freedom struggle and you realize how startling the resemblance is with the Mahabharata

It straddles both the indian freedom struggle and one of the most ancient poems in the world- the Mahabharata. As some one aware of both , the pa...more
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What two characters from Mahabharata and Indian Politics are same? 3 32 Oct 31, 2013 06:49AM  
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Shashi Tharoor is a member of the Indian Parliament from the Thiruvananthapuram constituency in Kerala. He previously served as the United Nations Under-Secretary General for Communications and Public Information and as the Indian Minister of State for External Affairs.

He is also a prolific author, columnist, journalist and a human rights advocate.

He has served on the Board of Overseers of the Fle...more
More about Shashi Tharoor...
India: From Midnight to the Millennium and Beyond Riot The Elephant, the Tiger, and the Cell Phone: Reflections on India - the Emerging 21st-Century Power Pax Indica: India and the World of the 21st Century Nehru: The Invention of India

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