The world has been enthralled, saddened and angered by many people, of varying professions and nationalities. But there are people who have had the courage, conviction and the persona to make the world go on its knees, to cower down before them and to quiver with fear at their names. A handful of people, not more! One such towering personality is Genghis Khan, a name that resonates with power and brings about horses, arrows and brutality to one’s minds. A name synonymous with absolute power!
When history is being read by us or studied by us, we rarely tend to observe the details, especially when the mentioned part is something that we’ve read often. It becomes news to us. Sutapa Basu, in collaboration with Readomania has taken pains to bring alive before us in The Legend of Genghis Khan, the details we missed while studying the history of the world, especially about a part of the world far from our motherland.
The novel starts with a brutal raid by the army of Genghis Khan on a settlement. As expected, the raid is swift, merciless, mindlessly cruel, ferocious and partly successful. The Khan himself is not part of the raid. But what he gains from the raid is something he never bargained for!
The novel moves ahead in two time frames, giving the readers a clear picture of the legend that the Khan had carved for himself from being the fledgling that he was. The author’s efforts in doing her research for the novel is evident from the names of places, their descriptions, the culture of the Mongols, the names of various weapons used for siege warfare, the Mongolian way of addressing people and so on.
What strikes the readers in its peculiarity is the other side of Genghis Khan, the Mongolian leader. Only the most studious historian would know that, the Khan, though illiterate, encouraged his subjects to learn Writing. Important events were recorded for posterity. Shigi, the adopted brother of Genghis Khan comes about as a fearsome warrior, giant in stature, but also surprisingly genial and literate. His war scarred hands pursue writing the achievements of Genghis Khan in their free time. The Khan offered equality to women; something that was unheard or even thought of in those times. And to see that emerging from the barbaric mind of the Mongol was a shock to the entire population of the earth that heard of or knew him. Another seemingly impossible trait of him was his tolerance to other religions. This was not deemed possible in his time, but he did it. And it played a big role in strengthening his kingdom. The most important aspect of his quickly strengthened kingdom was the way in which the Khan allowed people to rise to power based on their merit and not their tribe. This enlarged his followers and made them stick with him, no matter what.
Sutapa Basu has cleverly gathered all information and wrought about a novel that whiffs with the scents of Mongolian steppes and freshly groomed horses. She also makes the readers feel the cold wind biting into the characters of the novel and sometimes into themselves. The image of the ger visualized by the readers is a testimony to the descriptive ability of the author. The hunt that Temujin has with his father, the taking of the food from the rival clan, the feeling of abandonment, the cause of having to fend for himself and his family, the feral instinct that needles him to commit an atrocious act within the family and the humble manner in which he accepts the reprimand from his mother are portrayed perfectly by Sutapa Basu. She excels as an author who brings out the inner feelings of the characters and makes the readers feel part of the novel. Relationships are etched in our minds through this Readomanian tale.
Having brought all these qualities of Genghis Khan and his childhood, the author does not fail to talk about the notoriety the Mongol was and is known throughout the world for; his cruelty. The raid on Malikpur is an example. A child is thrown in the air and speared as it comes down, making the mother faint and the readers gasp involuntarily. The sacking of cities is another example, where in a city, getting tired of his soldiers killing civilians one by one, Genghis Khan grabs hold of five prisoners by their hair, swings his sword in a butchering arc and kills all five, eliciting cheers from his soldiers and setting them a model they use in all further post warfare killing rituals. A frightening spectacle indeed!
Genghis Khan is brutal and utterly without mercy when a city resists him. He seethes with fury when he is ridiculed, humiliated or betrayed. And the revenge is swift and terrible. The Emperor of Xi Xia, Xian bears the brunt of the folly committed by his predecessors. The readers are not prepared for the sudden violence that descends upon the Emperor and his retinue. The peaceful and serene landscape is turned into a bloody and squishy terrain filled with human fat, blood and the stench of death. Sutapa Basu swings from one scene to the other with equal ease, meandering through the cunning, wicked, warring, strategic, cruel, gentle, loving and kind phases of the Mongol Khan tirelessly.
Though there are some novels describing the life history of Genghis Khan, this novel by Sutapa Basu is like the delicious fruit hidden deep inside a pudding, offering glimpses into the Mongol’s life from different perspectives. Readomania has added to its kitty another book that screams to be read, right from its book cover to the last chapter. Since the book is from an author of erudite background and a publishing company of repute, the Language style and the impeccability of the grammar used is beyond reproach. Books on historical fiction always pique the curiosity of readers, and this has not disappointed. Those who know of Genghis Khan as only a cruel and barbaric leader will learn other aspects of him that might cause a ray of light to shine upon his usually tinted features. Sutapa Basu is going from strength to strength with each of her novels, making us pine for more.