We’ve all read about history in school books: an endless repetition of dry facts and dates, of people with unpronounceable names and long-forgotten titles. Yet history is filled with people who lived and breathed and moved in the background of wars and famines and empires. And it is these people who bring history alive, who lead the past and the present to mingle, who teach us the causes and consequences of historical events and who see history not as something distant, but as something personal and quotidian. Historical fiction, such as Drunk Bird Chronicles, allows us to do just that.
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Drunk Bird Chronicles (written by Malay Chatterjee and published by Speaking Tiger Books) is the hilariously bizarre and unorthodox tale of the Braganza Family as they juggle love and work and family. A hundred years and five generations of the family are traced amidst the backdrop of colonial India, two world wars and several independence struggles.
A London-based brothel owner almost drowns in a bathtub, coverts to baptism and makes his way to India for missionary works along with his faithful companion: an immortal bird. And that is how the story starts. Imagine the chaos that follows!
Drunk Bird Chronicles follows the large and diverse Braganza family, from Gareth Armstrong – an eccentric genius and philanthropist – to Asif Jackson Braganza – musical extraordinaire. The common thread between all generations is the family pet and adviser, Allegro the Immortal (Drunkard) Raven, who maintains a strange balance between sage advice, crude singing, and drunken grumblings.
Pros and Cons
Drunk Bird Chronicles is wild, and encapsulates the eccentricities that govern the main family. Numerous historical events are mentioned through the eyes and ears of the protagonists, from the Crowning of Queen Victoria as Empress of India, to the World Wars, to Indian Independence, up until the Emergency and beyond.
The Braganza family and it’s many diverse branches are a unique study in the vast cultural heritage of India. The strained relations between family members with different influences, languages, religions and aspirations reflects the larger worldwide struggles that characterised much of the 20th century, giving a uniquely individualised view into key historical events and how they affected people at a personal level.
The main issue with Drunk Bird Chronicles is that it attempts to cover five generations of a family – each with multiple characters – into a novel just shy of 400 pages. The result is a truckload of information thrown at the reader and many characters or plot points introduced and then abandoned with little to no resolution. From hurried conversations to landmark historical events to whirlwind romances, all are condensed into a few short pages, leaving no time for the readers to immerse themselves in the book. Despite being a relatively light-hearted story, the sheer amount of information contained every few pages makes it impossible to read without taking several breaks to process everything.
Allegro The Raven
Allegro the Immortal Raven lives up to the book title and is the star of Drunk Bird Chronicles. In him, we have a kindly grandfather, a foul-mouthed drunkard, an idealist and more, all neatly wrapped up in white feathers. He is the author’s tool to dispense worldly wisdom, brutal truths and third-party observations, and often adds a touch of humour as a comedic sidekick.
In him, readers have an outlet, as he often connects past to present, or makes observations and interjections on our behalf. Oddly though, Allegro doesn’t play as big a part in the second half of the book. Perhaps it was the increased number of characters that made it difficult to focus on Allegro as much, perhaps it was simply the direction the author intended to go all along. Either way, the absence of Allegro’s witty banter and sage advice takes away a big chunk of the charm of this story.
The cover is a relatively simplified attempt to represent the two main identifiers of this story: Allegro the White Raven, and the Braganza & Sons Piano Business. It does come across as a bit amateurish and doesn’t completely capture the essence of the story, just a few elements of it. It’s functional, but nothing beyond that.
The Drunk Bird Chronicles is a light-hearted story that has the potential to be thoroughly enjoyable but suffers from a classic case of the “I have to mention everything and everyone in great detail” syndrome that many first-time authors fall prey to. The characters are quirky and fun, if sometimes one-dimensional, but the complicated family interactions and history sprinkled throughout will nevertheless win the reader over.
Overall, it’s a fun read for young adults who have a taste for the bizarre and will keep you coming back for more of the Braganza Family’s ridiculous adventures.
Allegro was quite irritated by her visits. Fed up, he told her off one day: ‘Enough of your ranting and raving. Can’t you see how happy the child is now? What more could we want? Now buzz off. It’s my nap time.’