Monday, 15 August 2016

Once Upon a Time in India by Alfred Assollant (a Sam Miller translation): a review

We always love to do what we are forbidden. For the generation of today’s time who is so much into reading books, we get attracted towards the books that we aren’t supposed to read for various reasons. When we are teenagers, we love to read the books that are out of our reach and when we grow up, we love to read the books that are banned. So when I heard about Sam Miller’s translation of Alfred Assollant’s The Adventures of Captain Corcoran, aptly titled “Once upon a time in India” that was banned long back, I couldn’t control myself. I was immediately attracted with the cover of the book and intrigued to look up at its blurb.

According to the back cover- A dashing adventurer, a beautiful princess and countless wily villains. It is the time of the Great Uprising of 1857. India is in turmoil. Captain Corcoran, a French sailor who has roamed the world, arrives with his pet tigress Louison. And so begins the adventure of his life, as he and his tigress joins hands with a Maratha prince and his beautiful daughter Sita, to fight the British. This fast-moving story, with dramatic twists and turns, combines romance, humour and edge-of-seat suspense.

I will start with the cover. For the most part of today’s readership, the cover might seem very animated and they might take the book very lightly but I will tell you what I felt with the cover. To me, I liked it. The cover brings about the essence of the story and is wonderful in portraying what the main characters of the book are like. The animation, for me brings out the story and a lot of its undertones. The first look at the cover and you are bound to fall in love with the dashing adventurer, Captain Corcoran. It is surprising that the book was originally written long back (An 1867 publication in Paris).

Then, you open the book. The first thing that greets you is a picture of Captain Corcoran and Louison. Not only that one illustration, there are countless illustrations throughout the book done by Alphonse de Neuville and it surely brings about a lot of effect in the book. The book starts with an introduction by the translator Sam Miller and I will admit here that the book gripped me there. The way the introduction has been written made sure that no reader goes back into any other book once he or she has read the introduction. The attraction to the book only rises upon reading the introduction.

Coming to the story, do I really need to say anything about it? I would not term it a very serious read. No, this book and the stories of Captain Corcoran had fed the minds of decades of French teenagers who have enthusiastically read and devoured the story. Still a perfect read for the teenagers or for those people who prefer a breezy read, this book is one of its kinds. After finishing the story I just wish that this book comes back into the forefront and people get to know the stories of Captain Corcoran. There are many things in the story that relates to reality while some are totally fictitious. Given the fact that the original author of the story, Alfred Assollant has never been to India, all these mistakes can be forgiven. Being true to the spirit, if I weren’t an Indian, would I have been able to spot the mistakes?

Now, the characters of the story. There were detailed characters and those who are sure to make an impact after the story is done with. Exactly like the cover image, Captain Corcoran is as dashing even inside the book. Trust the author to make you fall in love with the Captain at first glance. Having said that, I would also like to mention the fact that my favourite character was Louison. The pet tigress of the Captain who is as charming as she can ever get, she is the soul of the story. One of the best parts of the book is the bonding that the Captain and Louison shared. Probably no one understood what the other wanted to share but the love that they shared made them bond so well and understand each other’s actions. Their undying love for each other made for a great part of the story. I’ll be true. At one point in the book I couldn’t help but wonder why I don’t have such a wonderful friend in my life.


The narration was smooth and the book was very fast paced. A breeze to read, for the choosiest of readers the book has a lot of undertones. The emotions that have been described in the book are well brought forward with the narration and the simplicity of writing. The ending had a smile on my face and somehow by the end of the book, I became one of the many people who are fond of The Adventures of Captain Corcoran. If I have to speak of the flaws of the book then I can say that the fact that the book isn’t for everybody is a flaw of the book. It would’ve been a cherry on the cake had the book been for all kinds of readers. Waiting to read more from Sam Miller, this book gets 4.5 out of 5 from me.

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