Paul Zacharia presents an exciting yet confounding view of the world
Some conversations do not have a direction or a meaning, yet they are meaningful in providing insights into a world different from the initial topic of discussion. The befuddlement surrounding such conversations does not mean that they lack a character and are entirely worthless.
Paul Zacharia has mastered the art of writing dialogue, which as confounding as it may seem, still finds some resonance with prevailing notions and the human psyche. In his latest work, Zacharia presents a fictitious work, where conversations lack a direction but are not rudderless. In this perplexing tale, Zacharia spares no one—historical figures, contemporary phenomenon and the human psyche. He bares his notions on all.
The work, A Secret History of Compassion, is a dialogue between the story’s protagonist Lord Spider and various personalities that he meets as he is trying to finish his article for a communist conference on compassion. Zacharia builds up different characters as he narrates the tale, and Lord Spider does not lose touch of fiction in his conversations. To add to this milieu, Zacharia also adds a shape-shifting character who is also a meditative voyeur and an executioner JL Pillai. For a person, who once referred to himself “rascal of a dreamer”, there are many such references in the book, and Zacharia does not shy away from discussing them concerning personalities and characters like Satan, Stalin and Gandhi.
The 400 pages form a sharp critique of anything and everything with discussions entailing lovemaking, death, life, god and human nature. Zacharia slyly introduces a new character to shed light on a different feature of the human psyche, and he does so with such ease that the reader does not lose interest in the plot (whatever it may be).
While Zacharia’s work can be considered an indictment of everything, it is not an easy read, even if the author tries to ease the reader in the first chapter, which sets the tone for the rest of the novel. But the plot misses its points and gets too confusing at times. I had to go back and forth, time and again, to understand the reference. More important, for those who do not understand cultural references, the plot may altogether be lost.
The novel, by the time you reach the middle, becomes waywardly confusing, with many discussions and story plots running at the same time. However, Zacharia does hold your interest with an excellent play of words and his penchant for allegories. Despite a confusing tale, Zacharia’s writing keeps you occupied.
The book reminds me of a story on Immanuel Kant. The works of Kant, even though being blasphemous, were so confusing that the King allowed them to be published as he believed that no one would be able to understand them. Though Zacharia is not a philosopher, being a fiction writer, the confusing style of writing may well lead to his book becoming an acquired taste. For those looking for a light read, Zacharia is not a person to consider.
However, I would recommend this to art and literature students as there is much to learn from Zacharia’s world of illusions. For those with time on their hands, Zacharia does open up a fascinating world of dialogue one may wish to read.