Monkey Wars by Richard Kurti
This book looks at the politics and psychology behind power, only through the eyes of the various monkeys that live in the city of Calcutta. A brutal massacre drives the Rhesus monkeys out of their peaceful graveyard home and onto the dangerously territorial streets of the city. Meanwhile, the triumphant Langur monkeys celebrate driving out the monstrous Rhesus’ and the Langur’s new role as the city’s saviours. Mico is a Langur but whilst his family and tribe celebrate, he knows that something is amiss. The Rhesus monkeys he saw in the aftermath of the battle weren’t the monsters his tribe leaders tell him they are. As Mico learns more and more about the Langur’s lies as he rises up the chain of power, he realises that he’s quickly becoming part of a very dangerous game and if he’s caught, nothing will be able to save him.
This has the potential to be a very clever book. Certainly it’s clear to see the historical influences on it – the Nazi party’s coming to power in Germany for one. One of the things I remember most about studying that particular period of German History was how frightening it was that a group of people with such hideous beliefs could become popular so relatively easily. That sense of horror comes back in Monkey Wars, especially as you start to see the layers build up within the Langur camp as Mico gets more and more involved in the machinations of the leaders. It gets to the point halfway in the book where you have to do a little reality check on your self and think ‘hang on, how on Earth did we get from point A to point B again?!’ because you suddenly realise that what your characters were thinking a few chapters ago has developed in a completely different direction to the way you thought they’d be thinking earlier in the book. Monkey Wars gives you a front row seat at seeing just how a group of seemingly normal people can come to believe something decidedly un-normal.
That’s what’s truly frightening about this book – it tears down the barriers between Good and Evil and makes it plain for the reader to see that war is not black and white and that you can get the most regular person in the world to believe something radical if you phrase it or present it just so. It’s quite astonishing and this realisation underpins Mico’s character all the way through the book. You really come to empathise with him as he struggles to make sense of what his tribe’s become because, as the reader, you’ve seen it and been horrified by it right alongside him.
As always with me, the reason this book made it on this blog is because of it’s characters. It’s funny though, because despite Mico seemingly billed as the main chracter and his role as our eyes in the story, I don’t think he’s the main driving force behind the tribe wars. I think the main force is Papina, who’s the inspiration for Mico’s spying and therefore his actions and the plot. She’s the voice of reason when Mico gets blinded by his own tribe, she cuts through the lies and confusion to remind Mico of what’s actually real and what’s deception. She’s a direct contrast to Mico, her hardened-in-fire demeanour to his still-growing-up one. It’s an intresting combination to have I think where the girl in the story is actually the more savvy one rather than the boy. Maybe I just haven’t read too broadly recently, but that struck me as a bit of a change to the norm.
So, a compelling read that really has you roiling at it’s events as much as it’s characters do. Certainly it’s one that could be used to raise a few questions and spark some discussion if used as a class reader.
Find Monkey Wars here.