Book Review: The Valley of Masks by Tarun J. Tejpal

Title: The Valley of Masks
Author: Tarun J. Tejpal
Publisher: Fourth Estate, Harper Collins
ISBN: 978-9350290460
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 348
Price: Rs. 499
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I can tell you this much and I tell you this with extreme confidence and surety: The Valley of Masks is not like anything you have read. I have been reading books for almost three-fourths of my life and have never encountered anything like this book. The Valley of Masks grabbed me from the word. I had to put the book down and think about every chapter, every situation and every consequence due to an action. The book is that disturbing. It made me think long after I had finished the book as well.

What is the book about?

The Valley of Masks is about apathy. That is simply putting it. The book explores deeper issues – of class systems, the human race, the dogmas that surround us and ultimately about the human spirit – its failure to see and rise above everything else.

The narrator who initially goes by the name Karna, to X 470 while being trained to become a warrior (again, how appropriate is the name play) and finally as X47 as Wafadar has fled the doctrines and mountains of Aum. He is the one who decides to tell his story, the story of being hidden behind a mask, of Aum and its so-called principles.

The book is about an extremist organization that teaches violent perfection to young children; it takes priesthood to another level involving women and also strives to understand why naxalites killed and continue to kill. Aum (appropriately named) is the self-proclaimed leader of this cult – where equality is placed before everything else – so much so that they have the same face – a mask that is fitted to their face once they turn sixteen.

The more one reads the book, the more one is scared. What if this turns out to be a reality some day? The idea of how the human mind is more willing to submit and follow than stand up against. There are pages of discourse in the book, something others might not find relevant; however for me those were essential to the plot. They held the story together.

The Valley of Masks is a frightening book and it is set in times when it is highly possible for something like this to take place. This book has its moments and plenty of them, though it does go on a tangent at times. This is one book that I will definitely re-read and recommend to all.

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Valley of Masks by Tarun J. Tejpal

  1. Sushil Gupta

    I am only midway through the book. It falls under the genre of Dystopias: a genre that is very popular in the west but most probably is the first of its kind in Indian fiction.
    Sushil Gupta

  2. Sushil Gupta

    Now that I have read the book I can make a few comments on it. This novel sits at the apex of the pyramid of Plato’s Republic, Huxley’s Brave New World, Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm, Ayn Rand’s Anthem, Ira Levin’s The Perfect Day, Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, More’s Utopia, Butler’s Erewhon…the list can not easily be exhausted. Utopias turned into nightmares, popularly called Dystopias, has caught the fancy of the West. It has developed into a genre of its own. Most of these dystopias are placed in future where the state with the help of the sophisticated technology controls the lives of its denizens. In theory the state looks a panacea to all the existing problems in contemporary society, but at what cost? Individual liberty is the first casualty. State interferes in all facets of an individual’s life, including sex,food,entertainment and ownership of home and other personal belongings. One shudders to imagine life in such a scenario.
    Tejpal’s Valley is located in the remote recesses of Himalayas. It isn’t set in future, but in the twentieth and the first decade of the twent-first century. Use of gadgetry is minimal; it is dominated by rigorous discipline reminiscent of martial-arts practitioners of medieval Japan. Living in a commune always sounds romantic on paper, but in practice it can be horrendous. The fall of communism in Russia after living out the experiment for seven decades is a testament to this dichotomy between theory and practice.
    Tejpal’s novel is also a scathing criticism of all religious sects including the most popular and populous belief systems like Islam, Christianity and Buddhism. His Aum is an amalgam of features reminiscent of Jesus, Muhammad and Buddha. The progenitors of these religions were great visionaries and exceptionally virtuous individuals, but their apostles and subsequent followers twisted their teachings to suit their own vanities, devised arcane rituals to befuddle the masses to be able to hold sway over them. They became the custodians of Truth and the only medium between God and the common man.
    (mor later)

  3. tanya

    I am halfway through the book and just came online to see if it was only me who found the book so disturbing and enthralling at the sa
    me time! It makes you think after every chapter. I was already impressed with the genre but coming from an indian writer and also a celebrated one i am really looking forward to reading the other two books by him.


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