By Santosh Bakaya
‘Minotaur: A dark tale of power-crazy leaders’ is a blistering book, gut-wrenching in its intensity and powerful in its impact. A book for the present times. A book for all times. Exciting. Full of intrigue. A roller coaster ride that sets a reader’s pulse racing.
Penned by Sunil Sharma, the Toronto-based writer, academic, critic, and editor of a bilingual journal, Setu, the book got the coveted Nissim International Prize for Excellence in English Literature (Prose for the year 2022) selected from submissions from across the world.
‘The ghosts appeared abruptly at midnight and easily blended with the surrounding shadowy background’. Thus begins Minotaur, uncannily from the Epilogue. [Kind of Epilogue to those fast fading years – now history forever. Old Caesar was dead and new Caesar was born.] Does the beginning carry within itself the seeds of its own end? One wonders!
Who are these ghosts, the readers start racking their brains, in befuddled confusion.
“In fact, ghosts were highly-motivated insurgents who struck out swiftly at government targets and then simply evaporated in thin air, leaving no trace.”
“The gloomy city was violently painted in orange-red splashes of the leaping golden fires that singed the overcast nightly skies.”
‘Ghosts were there that night for their decisive contribution to a coming carnage’.
Well. Enough said about ghosts. Let us move over to the despots.
“Centuries hung over the room, layer upon layer, with their sinister dark secrets and the intrigues of the former rulers.’
Words like these pull the reader deeper and deeper into the myriad layers, where we are awed by the serene sublimities of nature trying to hijack the grotesqueries of the narcissistic, self-aggrandizing, hubristic despots.
We are surrounded by bloody civil war, rampant fear, bombed-out buildings, smouldering ruins, ferocious tanks, and machine guns ripping apart a wounded city, blasting their way into its bleeding heart in volatile Latin America.
This multi-nuanced novel Minotaur – half-bull, half-man, unofficially called Butcher, is a novel of epic proportions. The contemporaneity of the theme of this dark tale of power-crazy despots is highly interesting, the plot twists thrilling, and the delicate play on words riveting.
In this very well–researched book, we find the writer writing about the shenanigans of the power-hungry megalomaniacs, and then it is as though dipping his pen in different ink, he starts writing about the sublimating power of nature: the soothing moonlight, the serenity and tranquility of the night, the silver-hued vastness of the sky with a felicity, which is immensely heartwarming.
“The glacial bowl in the sky smiled and the stars broke into a silvery stardust that rained down in shafts of moonlight.”
We see the ageless moon and before we can blink, the Rabbit in the moon gives a one-toothed smile. Well, you are wonderstruck!
Some lines remain with the reader throbbing on with an ominous clarity, a gut-wrenching prophecy, encapsulating the wisdom of long-held aphorisms.
“A man gets insane if he no longer listens to his conscience. When he allows to silence dissidence. When he murders democracy. When he carries blood of innocents.”
“Statecraft is not very different from the mafia. You have to be ruthless, in order to remain at the top. Call it like that. Darwin called it survival of the fittest. Some call it a jungle.”
“But no paid army can destroy the willpower of angry impoverished and dispossessed young losers”.
As one reads on, like one of the characters in the book, one is suddenly struck by an epiphany of a simple truth, profound in implications, that the resistance to power is a human attribute and a desire, as ancient as the unjust world, a uniquely human quality which could never be suppressed by the most totalitarian system of the world, at any period of time.
Readers are also treated to the cameo appearances of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and magic realism, where the ‘strange and the empirical, dead history and suspended present, the fantasy and the real’, seamlessly merge together, flowing like a powerful stream.
When I closed the book, lines from Shelley’s sonnet, Ozymandias, reminding one about the utter futility of power, kept hammering at my head.
I also found myself nodding vigorously in sync with the wisdom that one comes across the pages, ‘that the organic relationship between man and nature, now no longer possible in the advanced world, is still the best model of human development.”
In the second chapter, a cinematic aura engulfs one as the Harara storytellers start relating stories around a campfire: “The brilliant light of the campfire had lit up the surroundings in an orange color, in a leaping irregular pattern, and the faces of the spell-bound tensed audience were all red-hued in the dancing broken flames, listening to the musical stories under a sky dotted with twinkling diamonds and a full silvery moon washing the vast dome in her white cool light.”
It was with bated breath that I saw men, with painted faces, blood-shot eyes, feathered heads, and disheveled hair, shouting rhythmically to the beat of drums, strains of flutes and tom-toms, dancing and clapping with an ecstatic fervour, quickly making the reader merge with the audience, enjoying every clap, every tongue of fire, putting the reader under a spell.
Because of the novel’s cinematic effects, I felt that the book could easily be adapted into a movie. It has all the required thrills, chills, plot twists, fantastical elements and a tense rhythm.
This highly gripping book needs to reach more and more readers, adorning every bibliophile’s library.
Santosh Bakaya is an internationally acclaimed award–winning poet and author.