“Tarun J. Tejpal is brilliant. A master storyteller . . . stunning . . .”
A journalist of a failing magazine learns the police have captured five hitmen en route to kill him. But why?
Was it his exposé of a government scandal that appeared in a recent edition? And who are these men? Who hired them?
He is immediately surrounded by police guards, who only know that their job is to protect him. With the perpetrators in prison, the protagonist wonders why he is under surveillance. We follow him on his journey of discovery over the next three years.
The author introduces us to the assassins in substories—novellas in themselves—that serve to explain their lives as they careen in a downward spiral.
There is Kabir, whose father’s fear –going back to the partitioning of India and Pakistan—motivates him to protect his son at all costs. The result is exactly the opposite. A victim of police brutality, Kabir becomes a man who literally seeks the shelter of prisons.
Chaaku, assaulted as a boy by higher caste Indians, realizes his strength in adolescence and skillfully wields a knife against those who abused him; however, he barely escapes when they come after him. He learns to live by his wits, isolated and on the run, for the rest of his life.
Hatha Tyogi’s weapon of choice is nothing more than a hammer. Enjoying killing for its own sake, he renders his victims beyond identification.
Kaaliya and Chini grow up as street urchins in the shadows of railway platforms, living off travelers’ garbage and ultimately descending into a life of drug dealing, pornography, and sex trafficking. Eventually they meet up with the formidable Tyogi.
The mystery of the alleged assassination plot is gradually revealed through dialogues with a police detective, a cog in the wheel of a massive bureaucracy, who “only does what he is told.” The protagonist’s lover becomes convinced that the five men have been set up and is determined to assist in their defense. In the process, she, too, reveals additional insights.
In the midst of the brutality, violence, and angry sexual encounters, another theme arises. The protagonist seeks the counsel of a spiritual advisor to whom he returns again and again. The visits serve as an oasis—a time away from the realities of a man’s struggle with himself and the world around him. These dialogues are fascinating; spoken in riddles, they are sometimes funny and always thought provoking.
There are two epiphanies. We learn that the main perpetrator—Tyogi—questions the original assassination plan. Why would a man whose hobby is turning brains to scrambled eggs do this? Secondly, we witness a culmination of the protagonist’s journey as he finds himself reevaluating his life, his values, his relationships. A single factor contributes to both of these occurrences.
The end of the story leaves the reader wanting to know more, especially about the protagonist’s life going forward. Alas, this is left up to our imagination.
In writing The Story of My Assassins, author Tejpal creates a metaphor for the dark side of India. Considered part thriller, part erotic novel, this book is also allegorical. Characters personify fear, power, greed, corruption, sexual dominance, poverty, politics, child abuse/abandonment, epiphany, and spirituality.
Tarun J. Tejpal is brilliant. A master storyteller, he writes with graphic detail so stunning in spots as to make the reader pause for breath.
Readers who find brutality and nonstop violence gripping will not be disappointed. For the rest, there is much to learn about India at its best and its worst. Requiring serious concentration because of the many subplots and gradual, piecemeal revelations, The Story of My Assassins is an ambitious work.