A few thoughts on Anand’s The Book of Destruction, in no particular order:
- Anand is the pen name of P. Sachidanandan, a modernist writer from Kerala. A previous book of his, “Govardhan’s Travels”, has also been translated a few years back. The Book Of Destruction - originally called Samharathinte Pusthakam - is a short book of less than 200 pages. The translation is published without long analyses, introductions, afterwords and so on - just the text, speaking to you the reader directly. Just the way I like it.
- Anand is well known for being crisp and to the point - and correspondingly, his books are dense and complex. You need to work at them. He’s also supposed to be an intellectual. All these things really show in this book. Doesn’t mean it’s any less interesting, though.
- The Book of Destruction is divided into three “stories”, although they’re really all interconnected, and have the same narrator. The first talks of the narrator’s encounter with a Thug (the semi-mythical murderous clan of yore), in which the thug explains why he is not repelled by the idea of murder, rather, that his faith helps him see the inevitability of it. The second story has the narrator hear from an Assassin (again, a murderous cult), who explain that murder is not just a secretive thing, but needs to be publicized. And the third story veers off into an even more unsettling direction, where normal people are turned into murderers of a sort. Explained this way, the stories seem nicely linked but it takes some thought to come to that conclusion.
- What I absorbed (as a reader) from this book is Anand’s thesis about religion: that it is the uniform tendency of religion to justify its adherents’ every misdeed - indeed, to insist that these murders, rapes, alienations, and downright genocides in the name of its ideals are essential. Note the word Samhaar in the original title - it's so much more evocative and specific than just "destruction". There are several parallels with Christianity in the last section, and hints towards other religions scattered here and there. But Anand never quite comes out and says he’s talking about organized religion, so you’re free to take off in a different direction if you need to.
- DON’T read this book last thing in the night. It’s not comfortable bedside reading. And DON’T read it unless you’re willing to be disturbed and prodded into thinking for several days. But if you’re willing to put in that effort, The Book Of Destruction will meet you more than half way.