Book Review: Cliffhangers by Sabin Iqbal

Book Name: Cliffhangers

Author: Sabin Iqbal

Publisher: Aleph Book Company

Genre: Fiction

Rating: 4.9/5

Book Blurb: On New Year’s Eve, a tourist is raped in Kadaloor, a tranquil fishing village on the southern coast of the country. The chief suspects are a group of teenaged boys (called the Cliffhangers). As they attempt to prove their innocence, the boys also have to deal with the spectre of communal intolerance that is beginning to divide the Hindu and Muslim fishermen and villagers. Numerous small incidents, in which the boys are sought to be implicated, help ratchet up the stress. The growing communal tension and the hunt for the real rapist intersect, propelling the village to the edge of disaster.
In The Cliffhangers, Sabin Iqbal gives us a brilliant debut novel that illuminates hard truths about the religious fault lines that are dividing the country.

Review: The Cliffhangers is a brilliant contemporary book that incorporates or tries to incorporate all the major issues currently plaguing India.

The plot is well thought and looks well researched. The setting is akin to Goa and the Cliffhangers are semi-literate Muslim youths who do odd jobs and loiter around. The book is highly relatable and Sabin has strong narration skills that make this book a very powerful read. Cliffhangers may very well be the sleeper hit of this year and should win some award (a nomination is guaranteed).

“Most of the Muslims in our village were once fishermen before the oil boom in the Gulf in the 1960’s. Some of them had gone to Malaysia even before states in the gulf began drilling for oil with the help of the British and started looking for expatriate workers.”

The Cliffhangers have nominal expectations from life, they aspire for a job in the gulf (where most of their relatives work) and are quick to develop friendships with foreign tourists. Given their history of transgressions, they are targetted by the police and frequently picked up for interrogations. The lack of opportunities and the burden of liabilities at home are a pressing concern. Between this, they manage to fall in love, develop new friendships (and test old ones), try to eke out a living, and channel their way through adulthood.

Moosa’s affair with a close relative is documented in detail but the sexuality in the Cliffhangers is sensuous, never titillating.

“Once when we were at Thaha’s house, I had felt Amina’s firm, young tits. she tried to wriggle out of my hands, like jelly, but I pulled her towards me. She gave in and let my hands run all over her before thahira came in.”

Told through passive narration and the powerful voice of Moosa, Cliffhangers raises important questions most of which are rightly left unanswered. It is not pessimistic and does offer hope with a satisfactory ending. Sabin Iqbal is a writer to watch out for. Aleph seems to have developed a knack for discovering powerful voices and is creating magic with such authors.

The book touches upon religious persecution and profiling. The theme initially seems to focus on it but there’s more to the Cliffhangers. It is a story about all of us. Every youth in India has gone through this phase, more so the ones who live away from the cities and have not enjoyed sheltered or privileged lives.

The book is well structured and the right amount of space has been allocated to all the characters. Familial ties, relationships and societal bonds are well described and dissected.

Sabin writes well, the narration meanders sometimes but even the best of authors lose their voice especially in the middle section (I am beginning to wonder if a book also goes through a midlife crisis).

Cliffhangers has the right amount of thrill, passion, and a superb ending- what more do you want from a book?

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