4 out of 4 stars
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“As he tried to move his head away from the branch, something else made a dull, hollow scraping sound as it rubbed and bounced down the outer hull. It caused a disturbingly deep and low booming, an empty large tree trunk was floating right beside him, and they all felt the noise in their joints. The sound sucked the air out of the scene, each man felt as if it was an unnervingly loud klaxon peal warning every person and animal within kilometres of the immediate area of their presence and intent.”
Excerpt From: Caven Tootell. “Dis' Taste.” iBooks.
The above excerpt has been taken from Dis' Taste by Caven Tootell, a beautiful work of historical fiction that chronicles the story of two Belgian Colonial officers, Philippe and Augustine. Augustine attempts to usher in normalcy into their lives by bringing in his wife, Clementine, into the country. As the story progresses, “the two men strike up a friendly challenge to host each other to lavish dinner parties using exotic local foods and recipes”, perhaps as a way to escape from the brutal reality of the world around them. There is an exploration of the dynamics between the three in the backdrop of an oppressive regime in Congo. The narrative follows the three characters as they try to escape from this world of abject violence by carving a new identity for themselves, but find themselves descending into a world of “lost dreams, disillusionment and hatred”. Philippe finds himself grappling with post-traumatic shock after a violent attack and soon begins questioning the ethics of what he is doing.
Caven Tootell served in the Navy as a Combat Warfare Office for over 20 years. He essentially served in Desert Storm II. He also had a seminal role to play in the operation to stabilise East Timor and served in Malaysia and Indonesia. His knowledge of the subject is quite evident when one reads the text, and he attempts to question norms that defined the pre-world war colonial society, the norms that still pervade the Western mindset.
The plot of this book was quite interesting. It was difficult for me to find loopholes in the narrative. Everything seemed to happen at the perfect time for the perfect reason. There is a kind of violence in the narrative that might make it a bit too much for some readers. However, I feel that there is a moral obligation a reader must have towards narratives like this. It portrays and questions the abject reality of society, delineating a narrative that is not only transgressive but socially progressive in its themes. It was the kind of book the reader will not be able to put down until the very end when he has devoured every last word in it.
When it comes to the characterisation in the novel, the author doesn’t disappoint. There is an abundance of grey characters who come with their own personal baggage. The characters question the authority of this “fictional” world, and there is a deep insight into their psyche and a critique of how the human psyche can be heavily marred by omnipresence social atrocities.
I happily rate this book 4 out of 4 stars. I feel like this is one of those rare books that deserves more. I urge all readers to read this book regardless of their ideological orientation.
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