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‘The Forsaken Wilderness’ book review: Into the wild

Express News Service

The title of Vivaan Shah’s new novel, The Forsaken Wilderness, sort of prepares readers for what is in the offing—humans venturing into the abandoned wild. In this case, it is the climb up the perilous peak of Ranibaug in the Himalayas.

Embarking on this unprecedented adventure is professor Chaturvedi, founder of a mountaineering institute in Uttarakhand, who is on a spiritual journey, accompanied by Shera, a former guide, and an unnamed narrator, who, the readers are told, is a civil engineer.

Shah’s recreation of the intricate details, especially those about the technicalities of mountaineering and scientific theories that he has decoded in an accessible language, indicate an in-depth research on the author’s part. Contrary to the information that many might find new or alien, his characters are relatable, making readers wonder if they are inspired from real-life people.  

On the face of it, the four-part book, with its pace and the gripping style of event narration, gives off the energy of a thriller, but a few chapters in, it morphs into science fiction, thanks to Shah’s vivid descriptions that successfully create a mystical world that transcends human imagination. His flights of fancy are in full bloom, particularly when he writes about the cave under the cliff at Ranibaug, or his account of a bird-like-creature inhabiting it.

The author thrives in the unexpected, the most obvious example being his choice of locale. Shah has set the novel mostly in Garhwal, Uttarakhand––a place with the reputation of being laid- back, and where one doesn’t expect the kind of fast-paced action the book offers.

The other is the interactive element of his prose, allowing the reader to take up the identity of the unnamed narrator. The takeaway from the tale, however, is the author’s nuanced understanding of death, which he has exhibited in his earlier works as well.  

Notwithstanding Shah’s dexterity at telling an engaging story, the plot in the latter half dwindles away into a moralistic/religious harangue, in what perhaps was an attempt at humour by the author. He, however, does not always land the punch sucessfully. For instance, describing one of Professor Chaturvedi’s spiritual consultations, Shah writes, “Being a devout practitioner of the act of pilgrimage and possessing faith in the potential therein to absolve one’s misdeeds, he consulted with a swami––Shree Shree Guru Dev Atal-Anivaarya Natija (at times spelt with a double ‘e’ depending on the passage of the moon),a name of his own fashioning…” What begins as a promising read gets a little muddled up towards the end, but whether it was done purposefully to create a milieu of confusion to aid the plot is unclear.Nevertheless, it is a book that will appeal to readers of all ages.

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