Four and Twenty Blackbirds Book Review: Godfrey Joseph Pereira takes you on an epic adventure

Based in the Partition era, Godfrey Joseph Pereira's Four and Twenty Blackbirds takes us to a Bombay we've never seen.

Vaidehi NairUpdated: Tuesday, February 08, 2022, 01:30 PM IST
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In the backdrop of Indian independence, schizophrenic Englishman Charlie Strongbow and 23 colleagues go about setting up a smuggling operation on the previously uninhabited and almost unknown Cross Island, just off Bombay’s old Ferry Wharf. The aim is to supply the rich with contraband cigarettes, cheese, booze, perfume and whatever other Western products the new Indian government is trying to tax or ban.

Based in the Partition era, Godfrey Joseph Pereira's Four and Twenty Blackbirds takes us to a Bombay we have never seen. Once sucked into Pereira’s story, it’s very hard to find your way out of it.

According to the 'Author's Note' this story is a true to life telling, elicited from a bunch of letters passed to Pereira by Charlie’s grandson Danny Strongbow.

The story and well rounded intense characters keeps you hooked throughout the book. Lengthy descriptions to politics and corruption makes it very apparent that Pereira's aim is to cut through the brown-washed Indian history, and refute the well-versed line that the British Empire was singularly accountable for corruption in India.

Even though the story is in the foreground of 1950s India, Indians just play supporting roles. The main characters are former colonialists trying to make a profit in an emerging but distracted New India.

The characterisations are resplendent. These smugglers are rogues, but Pereira treats all of them with empathy, something that is hardly shown to the Indian officials, politicians or even civilians that Charlie and his 23 blackbirds have to bribe and threaten throughout the story.

The one female lead, Dona Maria, who could be described as equal parts trouble and pleasure, pulls the reader like a moth to a flame. The one character which had potential was Charlie's imaginary friend Dodo but he pales in comparison with the existing human beings. The devastating and emotionally draining conclusion is a satisfying ending to a rollercoaster ride of a book.

Four and Twenty Black Birds, just like Bloodline Bandra, will linger on long after the book is read and put away.

Book : Four and Twenty Blackbirds: The Insane Life of an English Smuggler in Bombay

Author : Godfrey Joseph Pereira

Publisher : Speaking Tiger Books

Pages : 296

Price : Rs 499

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