“There were reprints of American editorials. Liberals saw it as a resurgence of social protest and decried the discrimination, poverty, and hunger that had provoked it. Conservative columnists acidly pointed out that hungry people don’t steal stereo systems first and called for a crackdown in law enforcement. All of the reasoned editorials sounded hollow in light of the perverse randomness of the event. It was as if only a thin wall of electric lighting protected the great cities of the world from total barbarism.”
– Dan Simmons, Song of Kali
Robert Luczack (Loo-Zack) has been asked to go to Calcutta, India to follow up on a sudden reappearance of a Legendary poet who disappeared and presumed dead 10 years prior. However for Robert things does not go as planned as he is slowly swallowed into the disturbing underworld of Calcutta, crossing paths with cults and other shady characters/organizations.
Firstly on today’s standards this would have faced a lot of problems as there is not one good thing the author has said about Calcutta nor it’s citizens. However the book’s been released 25 years ago and it even won an award so I’m going to assume any controversy about the writing of the city and it’s people have been dealt with.
Song of Kali started out strong, it hooked me right of the bat. The protagonist, Robert Luczack or Bobby, has been asked to go to Calcutta and everyone seemed against on it and it’s obvious he will go and without a doubt undergo a series of life changing events. Then the book goes and tell he will not be going alone but also with his wife and his 5 month old daughter. I knew right then the story’s gonna involve them and it won’t be good and from then I was hooked.
Cut to Calcutta and truly the author is set on preventing you to visit the place. From the smell, pollution, weather and people. The book might as well be called “101 Reasons to Never Visit Calcutta”. The things that Bobby witnessed are sickening, though the book says it’s just culture shock for a Westerner to witness such acts, the book proceeds and say in the form of Bobby’s wife, Amrita, that it’s not as much as culture shock but the culture itself is ridiculous, from the Caste System, to using human or animal excrement as a source of nutrition she even tells that when Ghandi was preaching, he said that hygiene was important among things. There is no redeeming factor for Calcutta, not in this book. That said all of it was interesting, the beauty of the book is that it’s not just a horror story but a horror story that one can learn from.
The book has a lot of great things to offer, though predictable at some points as there are a lot of foreshadowing. That said the book is almost a commentary on Indian literature. Mainly referencing Rabindranath Tagore’s works, and it is fascinating. It kept me turning the page and helped me read on. One thing I really liked is the book leaves me just as confused as the protagonist am I going to believe that something supernatural at work here or something scientific is behind it all, the book never tells and that could be both a good and a bad thing. It’s good because it kept me guessing what’s going to happen next and it’s bad because the book never establishes it and it’s all in the reader’s mind to decide.
Speaking of things I did not so much enjoy there are parts of the book where I felt the pacing could’ve been better. There is a 3 chapter flashback which surely could’ve been shorter and still keep the message behind it. As well as how Bobby refers to his wife, calling her “kiddo” most of the time, maybe we’re supposed to accept that, that’s just the dynamic between them but the wife is showed to be more intellectually superior than Robert at times and to be patronized quite often by the husband, it did not fit in well with me.
Overall the book isn’t great but it isn’t bad either, it will be a very quick read for it’s that much interesting, the Indian characters bring enough mystic with them that you never figure out if they’re the good guy or bad and they too were written very well. The book does not hold back either on it’s shocking moments as it will tell you that people are just evil and that’s that. With minor complaints this is a very good horror book and it’s recommended to anyone who enjoys the Dan Brown books or into cult related stories.