English, August – Book Review

“The mind is restless Oh Krishna”, Agastya Sen reads out frequently from the Bhagvad Gita with scant respect for both Krishna & the Gita. Covering the life and confusions of the son of Bengal Governor who gets posted to a fictional town of Madna, the hottest town in India, as a part of his IAS training, this book explores the thoughts of its young protagonist Agastya Sen who calls himself August.

The primary reason why I found “English, August” original and refreshing is because of the absence of any sort of romance. There is lust that Agastya has, for several women in fact, but the absence of  melodramatic love keeps the book natural and believable. The bluntness is impossible to be disliked “About sixty-five per cent of the population of the block of Jompanna–a block is roughly one-sixth or one-seventh of a district–is illiterate. But one doesn’t need to be brainy or literate to watch a blue film on video.” Add to it, the subtle way in which Upamanyu Chatterjee projects the fascination of most urban Indians to ape their western counterparts, giving themselves nicknames like August and Mandy, is awesome.

Chatterjee expresses Agastya’s confusion with honesty, in an as a matter of fact way, with the tone never even remotely offensive, as if it is a natural thing to feel confused and shallow and allows one to relate to August. “There wasn’t a single thought in his head about which he didn’t feel confused.”

Lack of self-importance and indecisiveness towards one’s career, an extremely common syndrome in young Indians, the latter more significantly, makes this a true Indian story and a must read for everyone. In a land where son of a doctor is a doctor, son of a lawyer is a lawyer, this son of a bureaucrat showcases the frustration at having chosen a career which doesn’t appeal to him in a genuine way but chosen only because it is an easy way out. Witty and cynical English,August, written over 23 years ago, with all its cultural references of that age intact, appealed to me and I guess will appeal to any Indian brought up in a city.

To sum up the book, I will quote what I found the most impressive revelation:

Doesn’t anyone understand the absence of ambition, or the simplicity of it?

Image Courtesy: Wikipedia Article on English August



  1. P.Y.Muraleedharan · June 22, 2011

    Simple and touchy narration,sure I was one among them when I step
    in dubai in 1974 after my Engineering,
    Thanks Upamanyu .c for such creation,
    regards, wishes,

  2. Anand Mandalika · June 30, 2011

    Fantastic review !! I almost want to start reading the book right away 🙂

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