I don’t do book reviews, but when I do, it’s only when a book has annoyed me so much that I want my review to be a public service and spare others from the torture. Also, this blog was idle for so long and what better way to revive this than a blog post, right?
I bought this book many years ago when I wanted to give written humour a try. Until then, I hadn’t read a funny book and I thank my stars that even though this was the first comedy book I purchased, I read other, better books before this. Otherwise my first impression of written comedy would have been tainted forever.
And while, after reading this, I may want to throw this book at Mike Stocks if I ever saw him, my mother will probably want to shake hands with him. As it is because of him that her daughter, someone who, when asked, proudly calls herself a North-Indian (most times, except when it is more convenient to state that I am Tamil, then I conveniently also omit that only 50% of me is Tamil), is offended at someone talking smack about Tamil, Tamilians, and Tamil culture. No other book has or probably ever will make me defend my Tamil roots as much as this one.
For starters, this is not a comedy, it is a mockery, especially so because it is written by someone who has no understanding of the language, culture, or people. Now there is an argument that writers should be able to write about cultures other than their own, but I would imagine that the unwritten corollary to that would be that they have some understanding and experience with said culture before they attempt to spin an entire tale around it.
I started reading this book in February this year and only finished it last week, so you can imagine how interesting it was.
The title of the book is misleading. For one, it may seem like a white man is falling, always and repeatedly in the book. But no, he fell, once, near the main character (MC) of the book (not even on him), who is certainly not white. The fall kills the white man, and the rest of the book is more about the repercussions of the fall on the MC than the white man himself, but hey, let’s still call the book White Man ‘Falling’ – present continuous tense – because that’s how a Tamilian would say it, no?
Said white man makes an appearance as a corpse shortly after his fall and then later, towards the end of the book when the MC has visions, but that’s also insignificant in the greater scheme of things.
Secondly, the only other white man in the book is the author himself because I don’t believe it was written for a white audience. There are so many cultural nuances that I doubt any foreigner would be able to make head or tail of this story. In fact, many North-Indians would also wonder what Mr. Stocks was going on about.
So then who was this extremely local story about a family in a small town in Tamil Nadu written for? Especially by someone, who doesn’t seem to have lived in South India at all?
The writing style totally confused me because I was unable to determine if the characters were actually speaking English or the English dialogues were supposed to be originally spoken in Tamil (which it seems like they were, but how would a white guy know?)
The dialogues seemed to be transliterated instead of translated, which was supremely annoying. For instance, in most Indian cultures, you never say I’m going, because it’s supposed to be bad luck. In Hindi, we say, “Main aati/aataa hoon,” and the Tamil equivalent is, “Naan poittu varen,” for which the English equivalent should be, “I’ll be back,” or “He’ll be back.” But the author somehow though that literally translating poittu varen as going and coming back will be fun, for some reason and the dialogue reads, “He will go and then come.”
Another annoying ‘joke’ was this gem. “His father, whose name is so long and unpronounceable that he is universally known as Mr P…” goes a line on page 9. Not even 10 pages, and I was pissed off at a joke that was written for the sake of a joke. I can assure you, Mr. Stocks, that every single person in not just the fictional town of Mullaipuram, but also the very real state of Tamil Nadu and most people in its neighbouring states will hardly find it a challenge. Yes, South-Indians have long names that may seem like tongue-twisters to others, but to say that people within the community couldn’t pronounce it is a rather unreasonable stretch of your imagination, I would say.
If you want to know how a South-Indian does a brilliant job at making you laugh at South-Indian eccentricities then you must read Dork. Sidin Vadukut’s MC in the Dork Trilogy – Robin ‘Einstein’ Varghese – is a Malayali and by god is the writing funny! I will admit that the sense of humour in both books, as well as both authors’ writing styles, are vastly dissimilar, however, the one thing that they have in common is that South-Indians are the butt of the joke and while Sidin does a remarkable job, Mike Stocks just sounds downright pompous and condescending.
I can’t believe I’m saying this but even Chetan Bhagat, a North-Indian, pulled it off in 2 States because the jokes about South-Indians were from his personal perspective as a Punjabi, and not a mockery of a culture and people he didn’t understand. And I laughed at every single one of them because I knew them all to be true. I had one reservation there, but I guess when compared to White Man Falling, I’d read 2 States all over again, and actually enjoy it, just like I did the first time.
It is true that people in rural India (not limited to South India) are simpletons and can easily believe anything or anyone is God or God-like. But Stock’s characters weren’t made out to be simpletons, there were made out to be cartoons, every single one of them, with the exception of one doctor, a North-Indian doctor, who wasn’t even a significant character.
I went online to see what other people had to say about the book and there were many great reviews about the book, and almost all of them were from non-Indians. I also tried to find out if Mike Stocks had spent time in southern India on a project where he learned about the ways of the folks in Mullaipuram. No such luck. In fact, this book, Mike Stock’s first, was published twelve years ago – in 2006 – and since then this ‘Goss First Novel Award’-winning author has written…