3 out of 4 stars
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It Ain’t College, It’s War! is a fun-filled contemporary campus novel written by Subhodeep Mukherjee. It follows the first person narrative of Rahul Arora through his four years as a Mechanical Engineering student at RCE, a fictitious college set in Delhi, India. This book is first in an ongoing trilogy.
The five hostels at RCE are separate entities named after renowned scientists. Rahul Arora is an outspoken fresher belonging to the hostel Einstein Hall. Due to his big mouth and knack for getting into trouble, Rahul quickly becomes infamous among his seniors and hostellers. Things turn worse when he gathers the courage to propose to a senior girl Preeti, notwithstanding the fact that she is already committed to another senior. Rahul’s mischiefs get him into trouble all year long. Nevertheless, Rahul is well-accepted and has quite a friend circle among his hostel mates – Vishal, Imran, Rishab, Arunava, Shubham, and Manoj, among many others. Meanwhile, semesters come and go and so do the seniors. With his group of friends and the blaring rivalry between Fermi Hall and Einstein Hall, the four years at college passes by on a whim. There is an added drama of Rahul’s relationship with a junior girl named Priyanka. The book gives a nostalgic ride through campus life; from trouble-making tendencies, college crushes and bunking classes, to students turning serious and working hard to secure their future.
I picked up the book as soon as I saw the book was by a native Indian author. It Ain’t College, It’s War! kept me hooked with its intriguing storyline. I really loved how the protagonist narrated the story as if he is conversing with us. There were many relatable elements within the story since I am an engineering student myself. The book addresses the issues of ragging and hostel rivalry with opinionated views of the protagonist, which I felt was the proper way to handle the matter. Even though most of the characters are stereotyped into being either a nerd or one of the ‘rowdy boys’ or something similar, I appreciated how it reflected reality by revealing that each character had a deeper personality to them. The nostalgia generated by many scenes was overwhelming. On the other hand, since I already knew how things work at engineering colleges, it felt a tad bit repetitive. But I was satisfied with how the author took the trouble to explain the ways, by keeping his intended audience much wider than Indians. International readers can gain a fairly good idea about college and campus life in India, which has been rarely represented in world literature. It was one of the ways in which I felt the book outshone the other typical Indian contemporaries.
The book was definitely entertaining, but there were a few problematic aspects as well. Stereotyping and fat-shaming which is so often seen in Indian culture is even more stressed in the book. As an Indian, I often feel bad about how our culture perceives fat people to be ugly and how fair, white-skinned people are seen as beautiful. This book might be an accurate portrayal of the Indian mindset in that perspective, but the author took no pains to illustrate why it is wrong and needs to change. Rahul also frequently ignores and name-calls his roommates because they are nerds and uncool, just by judging their appearance. His first meeting with them was especially aggravating. There were some italicized sentences which show what Rahul was thinking at the time; I felt those repetitive and unnecessary. In the beginning, it was difficult to keep up with the wide array of characters, but later it was fine. However, I felt none of the characters were very well-developed since the author tried more to build the plot rather than the characters. The narrator Rahul was the least developed of all. Even though I could relate to the moments from the book, I could not empathize or completely identify with the characters since their personalities were underdeveloped.
The writing is exceedingly well edited, with just a few minor errors. The author’s style could use improvement since I felt it lacked lucidity. Altogether, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and it was very entertaining. But due to some problems in character arcs, I would rate it 3 out of 4 stars. There are no general triggers, so fans of contemporaries and realistic fiction inspired by true events might want to include this book in their reading list. People who are seeking character-driven books might find it tedious and boring. It’s a go-to book for those who’re seeking a nostalgic trip through their university days.
It Ain't College, It's War!
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