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The Siege of Krishnapur (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – July 31, 2004

4.1 out of 5 stars 162 customer reviews
Book 2 of 3 in the Empire Trilogy Series

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"The first sign of trouble at Krishnapur came with a mysterious distribution of chapatis, made of coarse flour and about the size and thickness of a biscuit; towards the end of February 1857, they swept the countryside like an epidemic."

Students of history will recognize 1857 as the year of the Sepoy rebellion in India--an uprising of native soldiers against the British, brought on by Hindu and Muslim recruits' belief that the rifle cartridges they were provided had been greased with pig or cow fat. This seminal event in Anglo-Indian relations provides the backdrop for J.G. Farrell's Booker Prize-winning exploration of race, culture, and class, The Siege of Krishnapur.

Like the mysteriously appearing chapatis, life in British India seems, on the surface, innocuous enough. Farrell introduces us gradually to a large cast of characters as he paints a vivid portrait of the Victorians' daily routines that are accompanied by heat, boredom, class consciousness, and the pursuit of genteel pastimes intended for cooler climates. Even the siege begins slowly, with disquieting news of massacres in cities far away. When Krishnapur itself is finally attacked, the Europeans withdraw inside the grounds of the Residency where very soon conditions begin to deteriorate: food and water run out, disease is rampant, people begin to go a little mad. Soon the very proper British are reduced to eating insects and consorting across class lines. Farrell's descriptions of life inside the Residency are simultaneously horrifying and blackly humorous. The siege, for example, is conducted under the avid eyes of the local populace, who clearly anticipate an enjoyable massacre and thus arrive every morning laden with picnic lunches (plainly visible to the starving Europeans). By turns witty and compassionate, The Siege of Krishnapur comprises the best of all fictional worlds: unforgettable characters, an epic adventure, and at its heart a cultural clash for the ages. Quite simply, this is a splendid novel. --Alix Wilber --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Suspense and subtlety, humour and horror, the near-neighbourliness of heroism and insanity: it is rare to find such divergent elements being controlled in one hand and being raced, as it were, in one yoke. But Farrell manages just this here: his imaginative insight and technical virtuosity combine to produce a novel of quite outstanding quality."
The Times (London)

"The magnificient passages of action in The Siege of Krishnapur, its gallery of characters, its unashamedly detailed and fascinating dissertations on cholera, gunnery, phrenology, the prodigal inventiveness of its no doubt also well-documented scenes should satisfy the most exacting and voracious reader. For a novel to be witty is one thing, to tell a good story is another, to be serious is yet another, but to be all three is surely enough to make it a masterpiece."
— John Spurling, The New Statesman

"…a masterpiece as unclassifiable as Giuseppe Lampedusa’s novel The Leopard or Penelope Fitzgerald’s novel, The Blue Flower. A historical novel, a comedy of manners, an intellectual history, an evocation of scene: It is all of these. But it is the inimitable combination of these ingredients that gives the book its perculiar savor."
— Columbus Dispatch

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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 376 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics; Reprint edition (July 31, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159017092X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590170922
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (162 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #229,107 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I had never heard of J.G. Farrell or The Siege of Krishnapur until one day I was scanning a list of winner of England's Booker Prize and I noticed that Siege was out-of-print in America. I was so intrigued I sent off to England for it, but it is now also available in the U.S.
The novel narrates the story of the British community at Krishnapur during the Indian Mutiny of 1857, when the entire community holed up in the Residency (like a governor's palace) for months under siege. Farrell's style is highly cinematic, reminiscent of great movie epics about that era, such as "The Man Who Would Be King," - lots of scope, majesty, explosions, and bright-red uniforms, added to the day-to-day domestic squabbles of the community. Farrell's take is not a shallow war novel though; he is witty, ironic, inspired, and sad in turn.
The book features remarkable turns of fortune and engaging details on every page, all of which were dramatically motivated and apt. (Examples: When the besieged run out of ammunition, they create canister shot by stuffing ladies' stockings with silverware. There's a sudden infestation of flying bugs that will make you jump right out of your chair. Two doctors have an argument about the cause of cholera with dramatic consequences. A lucky shot by a Lieutenant....well I won't spoil it for you.)
The main character, the Collector, seems to stand in for all of Britain as he is transformed by his Indian experience: first arrogance and a passion for bringing British `civilization' to the uncivilized, then bravado as he stands up to the initial assaults, then despair as he watches the failure of mere ingenuity to overcome the natives. In a wonderful little coda at the end of the book you can see how he has been utterly transformed by the experience.
A wonderful find, a 'must read'! I'm off to read the rest of Farrell's novels!
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Format: Paperback
The bloody Siege of Krishnapur in 1857 is the pivot around which the action revolves in this Booker Award-winning novel by J. G. Farrell, but Farrell's focus is less on Krishnapur and the siege than it is on the attitudes and beliefs of the English colonizers who made that siege an inevitability. He puts these empire-builders under the microscope, then skewers their arrogant and superior attitudes with the rapier of his wit, subjecting them to satire and juxtaposing them and their narrowly focused lives against the realities of the world around them. Remarkably, he does this with enough subtlety that we can recognize his characters as individuals, rather than total stereotypes, at the same time that we see their absurdity and recognize the damage they have done in their zeal to spread their "superior" culture.
From the opening pages, Farrell builds suspense as the English colony ignores reports of unrest in Barrackpur, Berhampur, and Meerut. The flirtations of the single women, the amorous attentions of the young men, the boorish and insensitive behavior of the officials, the gossipy whispering of their wives, and the unrelenting efforts to maintain the same society they enjoyed at home--with tea parties, poetry readings, and dances--all attest to their degree of isolation from the world around them. When violence breaks out in Krishnapur and all the inhabitants take refuge in the colonial Residence, Farrell turns it into a microcosm which illuminates their misplaced values and goals as they interact with each other and face dangers from without--and from within. The siege continues for more than three months, with bloodshed, disease, starvation, lack of water and medicine, and the summer weather taking their toll.
Farrell's dark humor is unparalleled.
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Format: Paperback
Chapatis. It is always difficult to start a novel convincingly, but it's a long time since I saw it done better than it is here. The harbinger of the brutal and bloody Indian uprising of 1857 was, in this narrative at least, the secret distribution of chapatis to the intended victims. I have long forgotten what little I may ever have known about these events, and I would actually be delighted to discover that this detail was not an invention of the novelist's but what actually happened.

If paraphrased, the amount of gore and squalor that is detailed here on page after page would seem grotesque and even intolerable. As told by Farrell, it manages to be neither. This was the Victorian era, and the story is a scenario of British Victorians subjected to pressure and strain of near-incredible ferocity. The author does not spare us the specifics, and it will be a long time before I forget the spongy piles of corpses, the sense of near-unbearable heat in which I for one would have had difficulty in even wearing the stuffy formal clothes let alone dancing let alone battling for my very life, the pervasive stench, the outbreak of cholera and the indelible vignette of the lapdog chewing the face off a fallen defender. Even more extraordinary, to me, than the way they keep going is what they don't do and in particular what they think and don't think. There is no real instance of irrational panic whatsoever, and although the Padre for one has clearly gone slightly round the bend, the way this manifests itself is in an obsessional fixation with denouncing Sin and Heresy, and largely with his frantic concern to prove that great Victorian preoccupation The Existence of God from something like Aquinas's Argument from Design.
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