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The Great Indian Novel

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  5,333 ratings  ·  367 reviews
In this widely acclaimed novel, Shashi Tharoor has masterfully recast the two-thousand-year-old epic "The Mahabharata" with fictionalized - but highly recognizable - events and characters from twentieth-century Indian politics. Blending history and myth to chronicle the Indian struggle for freedom and independence, Tharoor directs his hilarious and often outrageous satire ...more
Paperback, 423 pages
Published February 26th 1993 by Arcade Publishing (first published 1989)
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Manu Varma Kanika Menon is a reference to VK Krishna Menon, Minister of Defence during the Chinese Aggression.
Arjun represents the quintessential Mediaperson of…more
Kanika Menon is a reference to VK Krishna Menon, Minister of Defence during the Chinese Aggression.
Arjun represents the quintessential Mediaperson of those days, Bhim - the Armyman and Krishna, I think is a reference to K Karunakaran, ex-Chief Minister of Kerala who was known for his bhakti towards Krishna.(less)

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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
"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
Jun 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Indophiles, political enthusiasts

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 'Mahabharata' with its original dysfunctional family, bedroom politics, palace intrigues & counter intrigues; grand notions of duty, honor, courage, sacrifice, boons & curses; envy, bitterness, greed & hatred -- all of these leading to a full-fledged fratricidal war.

Tharoor superimposes major events from Indian political
Jul 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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, ...more
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
Dec 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Sai Kishore
Sep 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
It's never that easy to be a king
And rule a populace;
For popularity's a fickle thing
Which might easily gobble us.

A king must always make it clear
That in his realm he's boss;
Nobody else, though near and dear,
May inflict on him a loss.

A king must always show his might
Even 'gainst kith and kin;
It doesn't matter if he's right
But he must be seen to win.

There's not much point in being strong
If no one sees your strength;
A tiger shows power all along
His striped and muscular length.

Any weakness must be
Sep 02, 2019 rated it it was ok
...There is ofcourse the question of expectations. This story is like that of our country, is a story of betrayed expectations, yours as much as our characters. There is no story and too many stories; there are no heroes and too many heroes. What is left out matters almost as much as what is said.

Well, this quote from the novel pretty much sums up this novel. The blurb of the book is simple. Take characters from Mahabharata and place them in Indian Nationalism. But the execution is not that
Rachel Brown
Jul 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mainstream, india
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.
Ashok Krishna
Have you ever watched the video of a remixed Indian movie song, especially, those of Hindi movies? A song, which was immortalized by the mellifluous voice of the singers, brilliant music composition of some doyen of the music industry, acted to perfection by some of the greatest faces of Indian film industry and what these producers of such ‘remixes’ do is to pick up songs like those, and tarnish them by adding some lousy noises in the name of pop music, then ‘spice the video up’ with some ...more
May 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Uttara Srinivasan
Jun 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Oh and so I come to the tale’s end
Or a wistful beginning of a nation’s mend
Or perhaps it’s just wishful thinking
For a country as large can only be sinking

How do I describe this journey in time
This book that proclaims itself
To be The Great Indian Novel

Shall I tell it in spiffy, stylish prose
With a thesaurus in one hand
That I readily reckoned when doubt arose?

Or shall I resort to jaunty verse
And keep my praise pointed, short and terse

This story of myth, of heroes and Gods
The chances you’ll smirk,
May 10, 2007 rated it liked it
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
Hari Donthi
Aug 13, 2010 rated it did not like it
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...
Kislay Verma
Sep 23, 2012 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
Jan 04, 2011 rated it it was ok
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. :)

Dec 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Cleverly Written, Amusingly Delivered, Satirically Marvelous! - 4/5

The Great Indian Novel is written by an eminent Indian Politician Shashi Tharoor who is well known for his intellect and wit all over the world. This book draws an analogy between Mahabharata, which is considered to be one of the two most epic Sanskrit mythologies of India, and the great Indian politics.

The book has total of 18 chapters each depicting a concoction of events in Mahabharata and making of India in a slow and steady
Jul 11, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
May 17, 2016 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 ...more
Jun 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Rithun Regi
Mar 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
I read the Mahabharata by C Rajagopalachari a long time back and it was tough in certain places for me to follow Mr Tharoor with his characters. However it is a work of creative genius and I have to give Tharoor credit for the same. My favourite character in the book was Karna played by Jinnah. Being a romantic it was tough for me to digest the author's brutal and truthful treatment of certain characters. His usage of words were truly eye opening and his eye and view on politics are refreshing ...more
May 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
This satirical history of pre and post independence India, narrated with characters and events of the ageless epic, Mahabharata, is a great attempt by Shashi Tharoor. The writing, both the prose and the verse, is so fluid the pages turn quite fast. Barring certain parallels that feel forced, and some tedious philosophical discourse, this book is an enjoyable read, especially for those who have read their Mahabharata and know the modern political history of India.
Jul 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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).
Dec 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Thoroughly enjoyed it. The rather wild parallels, the masterful language, the totally irreverent tone and the lovely yarn. I highly recommend it to anyone who loves to read.
Tanushree Vyas
Mar 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I find myself incapable of writing even a short review after reading this book, but nonetheless, won't shy away in stating that Tharoor is a master storyteller.
Aug 19, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: bookclub
This is the only book I've left after reading 5%. The references are very forced and the language tries to hard to be contemporary but falls flat.
Oct 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Percy Wadiwala
Aug 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shashi Tharoor's merging of the Mahabharata and the story of India's independence struggle has the potential, of course, to go horribly wrong. What a relief it is to realise, then, and fairly quickly, that it does not. With passages of quite brilliant, sparkling prose interspersed with doggerel verse, Tharoor takes the reader through the life and times of the characters corresponding to Mahatma Gandhi (Bhishma), Nehru (Dhritrashtra) and Bose (Pandu), all the while keeping tongue strictly in ...more
Nov 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
...What follows is the tale of Vyasa,
great Vyasa, deserver of respect;
a tale told and retold,
that people will never cease telling;
a source of wisdom
in the sky, the earth, and the lower world;
a tale the twice-born know;
a tale for the learned,
skilful in style, varied in metres,
devoted to dialogue human and divine....

The Great Indian Novel is perhaps one of the best work of fiction written by an Indian and it cannot be compared with other novels due to its work of adaptation i.e "The
Neha Shaji
Feb 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
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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
“Great discoveries, Ganapathi, are often the result of making the wrong mistake at the right time.” 15 likes
“They say every dog has its day, Ganapathi, but for this terrier twilight came before tea-time.” 9 likes
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