Title: The Sly Company of People Who Care
Author: Rahul Bhattacharya
Release Date: April 26, 2011
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Genre: Literary Fiction, Cultural Fiction (South Asian)
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
An unnamed twenty-six year old cricket journalist has just landed in Guyana from his home country of India. He has become disillusioned with India, swearing off his home and going in search of something new. He falls in love with what Guyana has to offer and proceeds to travel around the country, immersing himself in the culture and embarking upon new adventures.
In many ways, The Sly Company of People Who Care is a literary masterpiece. The unnamed narrator travels around the country with no real sense of purpose or direction, describing vividly as he goes. This gives the novel a great atmosphere, and elevates its function to a sort of fictional travelogue. The reader really gets to see the country through the narrator’s eyes (with the caveat that his background and culture color everything he sees, meaning it’s not an objective account). Bhattacharya’s writing is beautiful and evocative; the reader can imagine the various settings through his descriptive prose.
The unnamed narrator manages to comment on the world around him without divulging much of himself, which is very interesting. He meets all sorts of colorful characters in his travels; Bhattacharya has created unique and eccentric personalities to populate the novel. Their speech in Pidgin English adds a lot of flavor to The Sly Company of People Who Care, and immerses the reader in the cultural experience. Additionally, Bhattacharya’s commentary on Guyanese history and race relations, which takes up the second part of the three-part novel, is simply fascinating. It’s very eye-opening for someone unfamiliar with the country.
But each of these amazing qualities comes with a caveat, and they all seem to cluster around the reading experience of The Sly Company of People Who Care. Yes, the narrator wanders aimlessly, and it really speaks to some of the themes in the novel, but it also means the book follows that same path. Readers may become frustrated with the slow, meandering pace of the book, as it rarely seems to be going anywhere, and definitely not in any sort of hurry. The narrator removes himself from the reader, which is a masterful accomplishment in terms of the writing, but it means the reader isn’t really invested in the main character or what becomes of him. The Pidgin English, which is such an interesting addition, also makes the book incredibly difficult to read at times.
In sum, this book has two different dimensions upon which it can be reviewed: the literary accomplishments and the reading experience. It succeeds masterfully on the former, but lacks in the latter, and in my opinion, a book needs to satisfy both in order to really be great. Too often, I think literary fiction authors forget that they need more than just interesting literary devices; their books need to be enjoyable to read, otherwise why would readers want to pick them up? Don’t get me wrong, this was a good book. Bhattacharya accomplished a lot of interesting things with it, and I will keep a close eye on him in the future, but it wasn’t a fully satisfying read in the end.