Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Book Review - Idris: Keeper of the Light by Anita Nair

From the book cover: The year is 1659. Idris, a Somali trader, is in Malabar to attend the Zamorin’s Mamangam festivities. Everywhere he goes, his jewelled eye evokes a sense of wonder and incredulity. Then, by a strange twist of fate, Idris meets his nine-year-old son, Kandavar, born of a mysterious midnight tryst in this very land. Anxious to remain close to him for as long as possible, he joins the Nair household headed by Kandavar’s uncle, and is charged with a crucial task: of distracting the boy from his dream of becoming a Chaver, a warrior whose sole ambition is to assassinate the Zamorin, in a tradition whose beginnings have been lost in time.

In an attempt to stave off the inevitable, Idris embarks with his son on a voyage that takes them from Malabar to Ceylon, and from Thoothukudi to the diamond mines of Golkonda, where he meets the queenly Thilothamma, as solitary a being as he is. Will the mines reward him? Will he find the strength to leave his new-found love and journey back to his son’s land – and to an uncertain future?

Packed with adventure and passion, and full of fascinating insights into life in the seventeenth century, Idris: Keeper of the Light will keep you riveted and hungry for more.

My take: I bought this book seeing all the raving reviews that it has been getting. Besides it was by one of my favorite authors. So I might have bought it anyway. The book I bought was the hard bound version (I don't think they have a paperback version as yet). Of late, I have been having a thing for hard bound books. And I'm glad I got it because this one is definitely for keeps. 

Historical fiction is a genre that I'm not a huge fan of. Mainly because it reminds me of my school days where mugging up dates for my history exam gave me nightmares. For this very reason, I was skeptical when I picked it up. But I couldn't have been more wrong. A few pages into the book and I was hooked. Nair is an author who does her homework and the amount of research that has gone into into it is vast and it shows. 

Idris breaks the stereotype of the typical hero. He is black as the night and tall like a palm tree. With his one gold eye and his passion for adventure and star gazing, Idris grows on you. In his own words, he was Idris Maymoon Samataar Guleed. Previously of Dikhil. Now an eternal traveller seeking the measure of earth and man. 

The language that Nair has used is poetic. This has made reading Idris an absolute joy. The sprinkling of various words in Malayalam, Arabic or Telugu in any other context might have been putting off for the readers, but here, it somehow makes the novel more endearing. They are necessary for the story much like its protagonist who is a jack of all trades.

At 380 odd pages and the subject dealt with, the book is not an easy read, but I found myself racing through the book along with Idris and Kandavar. I finished the book in three days straight and I'm still stuck somewhere between the pages. There are a lot more that I would like to find out about Idris but unfortunately, looks like I will have to wait till the remaining two books of the trilogy comes out. Yes, you heard that right. It's a trilogy. Considering the nature of the subject, I think it's only fair. Besides, if this is the type of writing then I'm looking forward to some bulkier reads. 

Like all of Nair's previous works, the women characters in the novel are well etched out. Be it Kuttimalu- Kandavar's mother or Margarida, the child prostitute or Thilothamma, a strong and independent woman who finds solace in the company of her dogs, all of whom changes Idris's life in one way or the other. I only wish they had been given more space as these were characters who were anything but cliched. But then, I guess the story would have deviated from the title, which wouldn't have been fair to Idris. 

The other characters that Idris meets across the span of his journey all contribute to the story in their own ways. Idris is not just a novel about him but it surrounds the people that influence his life in one way or the other. Be it the faithful Sala Pokkar who joins him and Kandavar on their journey or Chandu Nair, Kandavar's uncle or Golla, an attendant who is introduced towards the latter part of the story. 

The other thing that I loved about the book was that Nair has weaved in many intricate stories into the main one. Like the story of Venkata Reddy, Thilothamma's great-grandfather with a secret that he took to his grave. The flashes of memory which takes back to Idris's past are as enchanting as well. 

On the whole, Idris is a well written, well researched novel which offers insights into the seventeenth century. But more importantly, it is the story of a man who loves to travel and not belong. Who refuses to be tied down. It is the story of a star gazer who is on the path of discovering himself; of a journey that takes us across the seas and then some more. 

It is the sort of book that upon completion you need to pause and really reflect on what just happened. I finished this book last night and needed some time to just think about it before penning this review. This one deserves a five star rating and no less! 

Linking this post to Write Tribe Pro Blogger Challenge


  1. I MUST read this!! Definitely sounds interesting one, Anita Nair and two historical fiction :) Aathira do try Amitav Ghosh. Great review!

    1. You definitely should! I have tried Amitav Ghosh- The hungry tide. Shall try more of his works soon :) Thanks Vidya!


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