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Oct 08, 2012 at 01:31pm IST

The Angel's Share is Rang De Basanti on cocaine

If you've spent time in hostel, consider your college friends the best you'll ever make, and get nostalgic about the person you used to be ten years ago, this book is going to touch a chord. If you've done your share of sex, drugs and rock-and-roll, it'll probably make you want to write your own book too. Chances are, it won't be as well written as The Angel's Share.

This is a passionate book. It's a love story, a political commentary, a coming-of-age novel, most of all a requiem for a murdered friend. How much of the book is fiction? The events and characters are certainly based on real-life events (I googled) but the author has revealed (on a comment on a blogsite) that his narrative voice is "a fictional one, exaggerated, deranged from circumstances".

This voice belongs to Zorawar Chauhan, Zoju to friends, who relives his 5 years at Bangalore's National Law School, while agonising over his Blackberry-toting, EMI-paying, corporate-lawyer lifestyle. The book starts with revealing the death of his roommate and friend student Sasha Kapur and then works through the events that led upto his death. In between we meet Zorawar's girlfriend Jennifer, who's battling demons of her own, and the rest of his gang. Sarna brings his characters to life with deft, sure strokes: surely we all have our own Kelkars, Kirans, and Amlans in our lives. There are moments of bliss and beauty- Zorawar and Jennifer falling in love, the camaraderie of a football match or campus practical jokes- but the overwhelming feel is gritty. A wave of tension builds steadily through the book, crashing with Sasha's death and leaving ripples that touch all his friends' lives.

The Angel's Share is Rang De Basanti on cocaine

This book is a love story, a political commentary, a coming-of-age novel, most of all a requiem for a murdered friend.

There's plenty of black humour and several interesting, often endearing side-plots. How Seshadri lost out on the Rhodes scholarship is a saga in itself. But what stands out is the intensely personal voice. This is not a novel so much as a working out of personal demons. The Angel's Share is one of the strongest first novels I've read, but I'm uncertain whether Sarna's next will have the same irresistible power now that Zorawar has told his story. I hope so.

There are points when I wish Sarna had reined in the rhetoric though. And don't judge this book by its cover. The font and the colours makes it look, at first glance, far more romantic a book than it is. Only after finishing did I look at the cover and see a boy drowning in the clear green water.

Sarna writes, 'When beauty has strength, it can reshape the world in its image.' A fit epitaph for Sasha Kapur. I wish though that the author had included an afterword with a few details of his real-life friends: by the end of the book, the reader is so much a part of Sarna's world that I'm aching to know more.

This book is Rang De Basanti on cocaine. With a better soundtrack.

The Angel’s Share; By: Satyajit Sarna; Price: Rs. 250; Format: Paperback; Extent: 244 pages; Category: Fiction