Wandering with the Wanderers, September 19, 2001
By Dr. W. Sumner Davis (Oakland, Maine)
Sanjay Sonwanai has put today's literary audience in touch with a way of life lost long ago to humanity. His exiting novel chonicles the harsh existence of the ancient Kushan tribe, a brave nomadic people struggling to hold on to their cultural routes in a changing world. It is a story of war, hardship, and a courageous people who refuse to accept defeat. Sonwanai tells the journey of the Kushans like no one else can, and leaves you wanting more.
A poetic allegory, September 19, 2001
By Sandra Sanchez (Denver, Colorado) Last Of The Wanderers (Paperback)
The story, compelling enough in its plot, serves as an allegory for mankind's ethical and intellectual evolution. Two nomadic tribes descended from common ancestors unite to help each other obtain vengeance against their respective enemies. With two leaders it is inevitable that a difference in stategy will lead to conflict and the resulting enmity is all the more bitter because of their initial mutual trust and expectations of each other. The sons of the two leaders are left to cope with the resulting isolation and vulnerability of each tribe. In order to achieve their different goals (one wants to gain the safe, stable civilized life modeled by the Greeks and Romans in Central Asia, the other wants new lands in which to continue to live the free life of his ancestors) each of the two voluntarily subordinates himself to either the Roman governor or the Hindu King who are about to embark on a battle of their own and need strong soldiers to fight for them. Although each of the nomad leaders expects to be rewarded for victory in the upcoming battle, each must confront the realization that by becoming subsumed in the societies they hve chosen to fight for, they will inevitably lose not only their nomadic way of life but their identity and place in history as well. These two young warriors are confronted all at once with the ethical debates that had engaged the Greeks and Romans for centuries. They can neither resolve the contradictions the find nor tolerate the ambiguity the westerners have learned to live with.
I am an American reader and well aware that America and India have taken the English language in slightly different directions. Americans will have to get used to "hearing" a different accent and sometimes a different way of using familiar words in the dialogues and philosophical monologues. But this is something we all must do when communicating in other countries or even in different regions of our own country. What struck me most powerfully were the visual images that totally transcend differences in speech patterns. When describing nature, the philosophical author becomes a true poet. There are some chapters that could easily have been written as epic poems. The author explains the effect on the nomads who have just crossed a treacherous mountain pass to arrive at a new land:
"They paused and stood staring in wonder at the lovely scene. The clear sky whose blueness blended smoothly with the green of the forests enclosed within the protective ring of mountains sitrred something deep within them and for the first time, the wild, rough Kushans exclaimed "beautiful, extremely beautiful!" The poetry that had been missing from their lives now suddenly burst forth. They could quite understand how the people who lived in such a beautiful region must shun violence for love and peace."
And this in fact might be the primary point of the novel: the effect of nature on human behavior. When we take the beauty of nature for granted or, even worse, destroy it for immediate selfish purposes, we lose that inspiration for love and peace that keeps us from being a brutal people. The poet has shed light on the obscurity of philosophy.
Once I started this book, I did not want to put it down. Once I finished it, I lingered in its story and images. I highly recommend it to readers in both our countries and look forward to reading more of this author's work.
November 6, 2001
By Randall Raus (Seal Beach, CA United States) Last Of The Wanderers (Paperback)
This book starts out with a warrior in flight, whose thoughts, physical and emotional pain, and surroundings are described in a liesurely, almost poetic, detail. But, once the reader has been introduced to a nomadic tribe, the Kushans, and their leader (the warrior in flight), the book gradually picks up speed until the tribe's journeys across vast distances and expanses of time are sometimes covered in only a few pages. The narrative, however, does pay careful attention to the thoughts and motivations of two tribal leaders--the leader of the Kushans, and the leader of a sometimes rival tribe, the U-eches. Since these tribal leaders are obsessed with revenge, or with the survival of their tribe (so that revenge ultimately may be achieved), it is tempting to dismiss this book as a light fantasy. But it will give serious readers more insight than they ever bargained for.
Most people have a vague familiarity with the wandering tribes that inhabited much of the Eurasia land mass from the bronze age until the middle ages. For example, the words, "Barbarians at the gate", will, in most people, invoke images of ferocious Goths and Visigoths about to pour through the gates of a decadent and corrupt Rome--its citizens somehow still in total denial. Or they may see, in their mind's eye, waves of Mongols sweeping across the steppes of Russia, penetrating deep into the heart of Europe, or the barbaric Dorians sacking, and overrunning, the cities of bronze age Greece.
But these are vague images. In books and in films there is almost no effort made to provide insight as to why these people were the way they were. There has been two dark ages: in the wake of the crumbling bronze, and classical, ages, respectively. But one question that is seldomed raised is this: Who were these wandering tribes of warriors that overwhelmed the centers of civilization, and why were they willing to accept such heavy losses?
We are told that a civilization decays from within. That may be true as far as it goes, but what is the conceit that allows a civilization to underestimate its adversaries? Is it it's belief that it's citizens are stronger? No, because it is known that the lot of a primitive people is hard lot, and it is one makes them strong. Is it a civilization's collective belief in it's advanced technology? It is not even that, because history tells its citizens that a backward people will someday build everything they have--and more.
The conceit of a civilization is something even more fundamental: It is an unshakable belief in it's own moral superiority. And it is this conceit that the author deftly and skillfully punctures.
Civilized people see themselves as above certain barbaric practices (such as hacking to death), and more enlightened about the rights of individuals. But a civilization requires the dividing of its citizens into a 1001 subdivisions. This results in striving, shadiness, and citizens carving up each other in civilized ways--and then trying to kill the pain by immersing in petty vices. Thus, a civilized people becomes weaker and weaker, all the while believing they are morally superior.
Mr. Sonawani brings together, not as enemies but as allies, the respective leaders of two decaying civilizations and two nomadic tribes. An alliance is formed between a corrupt local Greek ruler and the leader of the U-eche tribe (which is by now struggling to survive as a people). And another alliance is formed between a reformist Hindu King and the leader of the Kushan tribe (which is also struggling to survive). In this way, each of these four leaders is able to objectively look at the good, and the bad, in another way of life.
And, not so incidently, the reader is provided with four perspectives that he or she probably never had before.