Tiger Woman by Sirsho Bandopadhyay, Translated by Arunava Sinha
Published by: Pan Macmillan India
Fiction: Historical, Translated Indian Writing, 248 pages
Rating: 3.75/5 stars
Calcutta, 1880s. Nationalism is on the rise and the Bengali intellectuals are leading the protest against British rule in India. In this charged climate, ardent patriot Priyanath Bose prepares to set up the first Bengali circus. Soon he discovers an exceptional young girl, Sushila, and trains her to be a trapeze artist. As the circus flourishes and big animal acts are introduced, Sushila and the tigers become the star attractions. But the prize Sushila craves is unattainable, as Priyanath, a married man, is forced to reject her love for him. Jilted, she begins a relationship with a fellow circus artiste, but he may not be as loyal as Sushila believes, and his escape acts are now a bigger hit than ‘Sushilasundari and the Tigers’. At once a riveting page-turner and an uncommon historical novel, Tiger Woman places this tragic love triangle in an era of patriotism, as the circus becomes a metaphor for a frustrated social revolution.
About the author:
Sirsho Bandopadhyay is a journalist and author, currently associated with the Bengali daily Aajkaal and the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle. Tiger Woman, originally published in Bengali as Shardulsundori, is Sirsho’s first novel. He has published four other novels and also published two collections of feature writings and a series on forgotten Bengali luminaries.
About the Translator:
Arunava Sinha translates classic, modern and contemporary Bengali fiction and non-fiction into English with over forty-five of his translations being published so far. Twice the winner of the Crossword Translation Award, he has also won the Muse India Award for translation. He was shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize (2009) for his translation of Chowringhee.
Thank you Pan Macmillan India for the review copy. All opinions are my own.
Whew! What a story and what a historical graph Tiger Woman brings alive for readers! Set from the 1880s to 1920 and starting from Calcutta to the small towns and villages of a united Bengal and some of them with very quaint names, this book traces the journey of Priyanath Bose who is considered to be one of the pioneers of circus in India when in 1887, he founded the Great Bengal Circus with an all-Indian team.
The narrative is a fascinating account of the many trails and tribulations that Priyanath Bose had to face to set up the first Indian Circus starting from the lack of family support for his venture to the way he had to seek out people he could work with. This is historical fiction at its best with the way fact and fiction has been entwined: additionally, the ambience of the time period in the description of the roads and means of transport, the bonding of community people during those times wherein the people of a village come together to feed the circus troupe all add flavor to the narrative style.
Given Priyanath Bose and his family’s association with many other illustrious families of Calcutta at the time like the Tagores and other historical figures who crossed paths with Bose, the reader in me loved the mentions and appearances of Ramakrishna Paramhans, Vivekananda and many others. The patriotic fervor of the time and the reformist era of Calcutta and India are captured through certain events in the fictional narrative.
My only grouse is that the book has focused more on Priyanath Bose and his Great Bengal Circus and the name Tiger Woman sounds almost misleading given that we do not get to know much of Sushila Sundari, the first Indian woman to perform in a circus and who earned fame for her act with two huge tigers. The portrayal of what looks like a one sided love track that Sushila has for Priyanath is not given much scope and what little of we get to see of Sushila is when she moves on to another man in the circus. The final pages do have the real life incident of Sushila being badly mauled by a new tiger during an act, which leaves her incapacitated. I would have definitely loved to read more of Sushila’s thoughts and discover her character graph.
I will recommend this book to people who love historical fiction. This one will take you an unknown history of the advent of circus in India as a symbol of nationalism and patriotism.