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The Great Indian Novel

3.84  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,704 Ratings  ·  248 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
Vani !
Aug 15, 2015 Vani ! rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Last year Penguin released the 25th anniversary edition of Shashi Tharoor’s magnum opus, The Great Indian Novel. When you read it, you aren’t surprised that it has survived so long as it has. The author’s ingenuity lies in recreating the political events of the last 250 years using characters from the great Indian epic of Mahabharata (from where the book also derives its name = Maha (Great) Bharata (Indian)). Ganga ji or Bhishma Pitamah as we know him from Mahabharta fits the cast of Gandhiji, b ...more
"Shashi Tharoor? How on earth can one read Shashi Tharoor?" asked Pongalswamy scornfully.

"Why? What is wrong in reading Shashi Tharoor?" I retorted.

"Oh! That womanizer, Gandhi-bhakt, Congress-chamacha, corrupt murderer! What does he know about the world?"

"From this book, looks like a great deal. Anyway, those charges are biased personal opinions. And even if those were true, how does it matter in enjoying a book?"

"Anyway, what is the idiotic looking narcissistic book about?"

"Well, this book sor

5* for the last two chapters.

Dr.Tharoor has struck goldmine here: this novel is fail-safe because 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, honor, courage, sacrifice, boons & curses, envy, bitterness, greed & hatred leading to a full-fledged fratricidal war.

Tharoor superimposes major events from Indian political history, such as t
Nov 27, 2014 Gaijinmama rated it really liked it  ·  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
Jun 02, 2015 Qube rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one interesting book that is worth commenting upon. For starters, it is one of the better novels to come from India. I am not sure if the author was in India when he wrote it, but regardless, he is an Indian politician now, and that makes him as Indian as Morarji Desai or Lalu Prasad Yadav.

My regard for Mr Tharoor as a writer (I emphasise: only as a writer) has gone up a couple of notches after reading this. Of his writing skills, there can be no debate. But the content he chooses to wri
Rachel Brown
Jul 23, 2012 Rachel Brown rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: india, mainstream
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.
Prashanthini Mande
The author has taken two great stories, combined them and spoiled them. If you know Mahabharatha and the history of Indian independence, there is nothing new you will learn in this book. If you don't, you won't understand this book. Reimagining our national leaders as characters from the epic is a great idea. But in this book, it has been poorly executed. It was forced and absurd. "The difficulty of being good", by Gurcharan Das does a better job with a similar concept.

But that is not my major o
Jul 11, 2008 Savanna rated it really liked it  ·  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
Kislay Verma
Sep 23, 2012 Kislay Verma rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 03, 2007 Kate rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels, unfinished
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
May 05, 2010 Shalini rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 01, 2015 Gayathri rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
The most witty and entertaining book I've read this year. It's smartly written, the satire is spot-on, and the feeling at the end of the novel is not unlike that of getting up from a highly satisfying sadya (feast).
Neha Shaji
Feb 02, 2016 Neha Shaji rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
so when I FINALLY found this book in a store, my mother almost had a hernia. she began listing down about forty scandals, over-liberalism and his disapproval towards colonialism. which was rather funny, because i'm scandalous, over liberal and disapproving towards colonialism too.

i must admit, the title put me off for a second. it already boasted greatness, nationalism and a damn good story from the moment i ('i rue this day,' my mum had said) clapped eyes on the book. well.

then i read it - and
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
May 17, 2016 Pechi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In 600 pages, The Great Indian Novel superimposes the modern Indian history on the great epic Mahabharata with considerable success. Ingeniously fleshing out Indian leaders from the multitude of options that Mahabharata offers, Shashi Tharoor’s final product is a witty, funny, exciting and a somewhat contrived retelling that keeps you entertained for the most part. Though it is impossible to flawlessly render Mahabharata with all its glory in a contemporary context, a stricter editing would’ve m ...more
Jose Puttanani
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
Dec 07, 2015 Hrishikesh rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
After reading this book and the reviews of some of the other books, I really wonder how did I miss Shashi Tharoor - the Author! The Great Indian Novel is basically a narration of the Indian independent struggle (in a satirical way) cast into the theme of Mahabharata! Sounds strange! But the way Mr. Tharoor has narrated the story -cast from Mahabharata woven into a story of contemporary India - is simply incredible!

So, Bhishma becomes Gangaji - the 'father of our nation', Dhritarashtra is or Fir
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
Jan 04, 2011 Aldrin rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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. :)

Arathi Mohan
A brilliantly written retelling of India's politics in the mould of the great Indian epic, the Mahabharata. It is just uncanny how the author reimagines each of the incidents in the Indian freedom struggle and post-independence India and connects it to the episodes of the epic, bringing in his own unique twist. This makes it all the more delightful. All the major figures of Indian nation-building (or bungling? as the author playfully suggests in many places) come alive as their mythological coun ...more
Arijit Patra
Nov 11, 2012 Arijit Patra rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An entertaining cocktail of analogy, allegory and spoof that can potentially ruffle many feathers, but would definitely entertain the flock in general. Shashi Tharoor, with his characteristic ability to speak his mind , has accomplished a task of epic proportions in recasting the Mahabharata to the tunes and hymns that dictated modern India through the freedom struggle and the first three decades post-independence. The match-up of characters and events with their analogues( in some cases) in the ...more
Himanshu Bhaskar
Jul 06, 2013 Himanshu Bhaskar rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Pranav S
Apr 22, 2011 Pranav S rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jimmy Jose
Tharoor starts with style but ends in disappointment. Even though the second part of the book is dissapointing, the first part is truly entertaining. The mix of modern day Pandu, Dhirasthra, Karna and Bhishma sure did bring a few smiles to my face. But with the end of first part and the introduction of Pandavas the story took a deep fall from which it never truly recovered.

But neverthless Tharoor did a commendable job of mixing Indian politics and the epic Mahabharata. I as a big fan of Thaoor d
Jan 31, 2015 Neelima rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
Wud give it 6 or more stars ...loved the second half the most. Recommended reading !!!
Mar 09, 2016 Rohit rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A thoroughly entertaining and enlightening book. Sheer genius of a work. Something only an Indian can comprehend fully and something only an Indian could have written. It makes me want to research more about India and Mahabharatha. I have marked many pages in the book and would like to go back again and read more of certain things. I might write a more detailed review later. For now, let me say that if you are interested in Indian political history and know even bits and pieces of the epic, you ...more
Too lengthy,sure that ennui will spur up!
John A
May 22, 2015 John A rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: india

-> Nehru as Dhritarashtra, the blind idealist
-> Gandhi as Bhishma (or Gangaji), the celibate father figure of the Hastinapuram Kingdom
-> The Congress and the subsequent Congress(Indira) Party as Kaurava Party and Kaurava(Real)
and a host of other major and minor players of Mahabharata/Indian history (chief among them being Muhammad Ali Karna, with the shining half moon on his forehead).

I wish my scalpels were superior enough to satisfyingly dissect this classic body of literary
Sep 24, 2014 Becky rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
While I enjoyed reading the Great Indian Novel, I was not in an ideal position to enjoy it as a work of genius. My knowledge of modern Indian history is poor, shaped mostly by other novels from the time of Partition and British Occupation, and this work is a deep satire of the period. While I recognised the super famous stars of the time - Mahatma Gandhi, Indira Gandhi, Lord Mountbatten and one of the Bhutto dynasty, the more subtle characters escaped me. The work is also rewriting of a key piec ...more
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What two characters from Mahabharata and Indian Politics are same? 4 44 Apr 11, 2015 11:40PM  
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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
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