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April 2020
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Tiger Hills by Sarita Mandanna

Tiger HillsSarita Mandanna gives us a thrilling and enthralling epic story with her debut novel Tiger Hills. A strong, poetic and fluid narrative, Mandanna writes with the kind of musicality and subtle humour that forces you to sit and read in one go.

Set in a coffee plantation in the Coorg region of India, where the author hails from, Tiger Hills is the story of Devi and Devanna and a secret love that lasts through generations. Devi, the protagonist, has been friends with Devanna since they were kids. Although Devanna is besotted with Devi, he is at first too shy to speak to her. They become closer when he loses his mother to suicide. Through the years, their friendship develops and deepens as Devanna finds a confidante and a trusted friend in Devi, while Devi happily looks out for him and protects him from those who tease and taunt him. As they grow, Devanna’s affection for his dearest friend changes, and he begins to want more than friendship.  However, Devi has other plans, set in motion the day she laid eyes on Machu. Machu is a member of Devanna’s extended family and is a hunter of great repute, having killed a tiger. Highly revered in his community and in the surrounding villages, he becomes the second man in Devi’s life, the one her heart is set on. Soon, a chain of events is set in motion that cannot be changed, and their lives are no longer the same.

Mandanna’s characters are not far fetched; they have personalities and could be any one of us, experiencing the same emotions and challenges of daily life. Devi is a fascinating young woman with a mind of her own, and she speaks her mind freely. Impulsive and sometimes mischievous, she is dearly loved by her parents. Devanna is a young man who learns to trust again after his mother’s death through the love he is shown by Devi’s family.  However, he must go through his own rite of passage when he is sent off to college and encounters a bully by the name of Martin Thomas. Machu is not a man of many words but his ability to bring out the tigress in Devi is like no other person’s in her life, and their relationship puts sparkle on the pages of the novel. Mandanna explores different aspects of human emotions in her characters, such as the selfishness shown by the local priest Gundert, whose refusal to let Devanna go to England to study is a catalyst for pain.

Armed with a vivid imagination, Mandanna transports you to Coorg with her evocative descriptions of its landscape, filled with nature’s beauty. Her passion for Coorg shines through, and you can sense that her descriptions are rooted in the reality of the region. She does not shy away from bringing aspects of the cultures and traditions of Coorg into her writing. While there is a plethora of issues readers will pick from this story, Mandanna paints a fascinating canvas of different lives brought together by various events which are relatable as she explores the themes of love, family and relationships, the old and new world, through the European missionaries and their influence on the local people, customs and traditions, loss and the pain of discovering one’s own voice and identity in the multitude of a crowd

With simplicity, Mandanna is both painting a canvas and weaving a tapestry of intertwined lives against the backdrop of nature and beautiful prose. Her writing is visual, emotional and poignant. If there is a fault to be found, it is perhaps that the book is quite long and could easily put an unmotivated reader off.  Once you start reading, however, you are captivated. It is hard to put down this compelling saga. Tiger Hills is an exceptionally accomplished debut novel, and Mandanna is most definitely a new and exciting voice.

Tiger Hills is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson (UK) and Grand Central Publishing (US)


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