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In a digitized city, sometime in the near future, as an obsession with purity escalates, walls come up dividing and confining communities. Behind the walls high civic order prevails. In the forgotten spaces between, where garbage gathers and disease festers, Shalini must search for Leila, the daughter she lost one tragic summer sixteen years ago. Skirting surveillance syst In a digitized city, sometime in the near future, as an obsession with purity escalates, walls come up dividing and confining communities. Behind the walls high civic order prevails. In the forgotten spaces between, where garbage gathers and disease festers, Shalini must search for Leila, the daughter she lost one tragic summer sixteen years ago. Skirting surveillance systems and thuggish Repeaters, Shalini—once wealthy, with perhaps a wayward past; now a misfit, pushed to the margins—is propelled only by her search. What follows is a story of longing, faith and most of all loss. With its unflinching gaze on class, privilege and the choices that today confront us and its startling, almost prophetic vision of the world—Leila announces Prayaag Akbar as a remarkable new voice in Indian fiction.


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In a digitized city, sometime in the near future, as an obsession with purity escalates, walls come up dividing and confining communities. Behind the walls high civic order prevails. In the forgotten spaces between, where garbage gathers and disease festers, Shalini must search for Leila, the daughter she lost one tragic summer sixteen years ago. Skirting surveillance syst In a digitized city, sometime in the near future, as an obsession with purity escalates, walls come up dividing and confining communities. Behind the walls high civic order prevails. In the forgotten spaces between, where garbage gathers and disease festers, Shalini must search for Leila, the daughter she lost one tragic summer sixteen years ago. Skirting surveillance systems and thuggish Repeaters, Shalini—once wealthy, with perhaps a wayward past; now a misfit, pushed to the margins—is propelled only by her search. What follows is a story of longing, faith and most of all loss. With its unflinching gaze on class, privilege and the choices that today confront us and its startling, almost prophetic vision of the world—Leila announces Prayaag Akbar as a remarkable new voice in Indian fiction.

30 review for Leila

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kartik

    As an enthusiast of both speculative fiction and Indian writing, I’ve noted with some dismay that the contribution of Indian English writers to this unique genre has been quite minimal, or their “Indian-ness” underplayed in favor of a generic, nameless, western identity. Which is a shame really, because how can you not realize how perfect a setting urban India is for dystopian fiction? That’s precisely why books like Leila are a breath of fresh air. Leila starts off with a bleak, but not so hypoth As an enthusiast of both speculative fiction and Indian writing, I’ve noted with some dismay that the contribution of Indian English writers to this unique genre has been quite minimal, or their “Indian-ness” underplayed in favor of a generic, nameless, western identity. Which is a shame really, because how can you not realize how perfect a setting urban India is for dystopian fiction? That’s precisely why books like Leila are a breath of fresh air. Leila starts off with a bleak, but not so hypothetical scenario. The inhabitants of urban India, browbeaten by economic recession and a scramble for essential resources like drinking water and clean air, begin to revert to a state of communal segregation. In this world of walled rather than gated communities and actively enforced separation, acknowledging the humanity of your fellow human effectively becomes illegal. Love, in some of its forms, becomes illegal. Class structures are propped up and strengthened. The story follows Shalini, the narrator, a mother whose her daughter, the eponymous Leila, has been taken away from her. Leila’s crime? Being the product of a mixed Hindu Muslim marriage, something antithetical to this new society’s rules of purity. Shalini’s quest, as a widowed, “tainted” woman, involves understanding what has happened to Leila, herself, and the lives of her loved ones, and and struggling to accept the incalculable loss to both herself and her world. A short read, the description of the world’s new, segregated society sucks you in, as you read on with some trepidation, dreading how plausible this world will end up sounding. The book reminded me strongly of The Handmaid’s Tale in multiple aspects - the similarities couldn’t be ignored. Thematically and structurally, with the female narrator in the first person, the flashbacks, the unravelling of the story and gradual reveal of the context, and even the very premise, Leila drew upon Atwood’s work. Which is not to say Leila is a derivative work. What makes this book chilling is how much it draws from real life, and how the sentiments set in stone by the makers of this segregated world are basically echoes of the unfortunately all too familiar caste and community segregation apologia we hear in urban India, with its unsettling focus on women’s purity, “protecting” women from men that are not like us, maintaining undefined “values”, and its usage of the “unclean diet” of marginalized classes as a dog whistle. Subtle markers of class and community, particularly diet, are recurring motifs in the book that drive home how inhuman the system is. It ends up making you ask uncomfortable questions about class, privilege, and true, responsible social equality. It wrestles deftly with India’s complex, structural issues with class, community, and notions of purity and segregation, issues that continue to plague social progress in our society. Additional layers of nuance and complexity woven into the worldbuilding concern notions of privilege - Shalini, despite her fall, is ultimately an upper caste, upper class woman by rearing, and despite her being disgraced, is still afforded better treatment than the manual scavenging castes, and the menial workers. If you’re like me and you want to read all the urban Indian dystopian fiction you can get your hands on, you should absolutely pick up Leila.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Elsa Rajan Pradhananga

    A very moving dystopian novel that angered, depressed and stressed me out considering how plausible it is in current India that is blatantly reminding its folks on class, caste, religious and linguistic differences. Leila is the story of Shalini – a misfit in a society that is obsessed with rules to keep the virtues of a community intact. We are taken back and forth through the stark contrasts in Shalini’s life as a liberal wherein she married a Muslim man and raised a free-spirited daughter and A very moving dystopian novel that angered, depressed and stressed me out considering how plausible it is in current India that is blatantly reminding its folks on class, caste, religious and linguistic differences. Leila is the story of Shalini – a misfit in a society that is obsessed with rules to keep the virtues of a community intact. We are taken back and forth through the stark contrasts in Shalini’s life as a liberal wherein she married a Muslim man and raised a free-spirited daughter and that as an inmate in the Purity Camp where her hope to be reunited with her daughter was what kept her going. Leila is a story relevant to the times as us Indians are at a whole new height of blind faith to our fascist totalitarian government and the harm they’re lashing out on certain sections of the society seem obscured to us. Instead of the high walled community segregation that’s mentioned in book, as of now India has detention centers for those the government wants to exclude from the voters’ list. It is a shame that a few years ago, the minority in India felt the first pinch of safronisation as restriction on diet was imposed on the diverse Indian public. In the novel, this translates to neighbors looking through the trash of those they suspect to be consuming what’s forbidden. And of course, as in Leila, we have the prime time buffoonery on TV where a conductor of cacophony acts as the mouth piece of the government making sure that their propaganda has maximum outreach. Love outside one’s own community is looked down upon in contemporary India and in some cases, is termed ‘love jihad’. Akin to Leila’s Purity Camp, certain areas in India have reformation centers for those who don't fall in line with a community’s norms and to save the honor of a family, lovers are sometimes killed. Indians go to any extent to preserve the purity and sanctity of their community and Prayag Akbar’s Leila is only a reflection of this reality. The language is so powerful that the parental grief gripped and shook me hard. I recommend this book to every Indian who hopes that India is spared the horrors rising from our differences.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Nidhi Mahajan

    Originally posted on my blog. In Purity Town: Prayaag Akbar's Leila Leila: A Novel by Prayaag Akbar is set in the near future in an Indian town (one may call it Purity Town) where the obsession with 'purity,' caste, class, and community has reached its high point. In this town, a mother (Shalini) searches for her daughter (Leila) who was taken away from her, many years ago, because she and her husband refused to succumb to the new divisive and controlling social order. The narrative of the novel be Originally posted on my blog. In Purity Town: Prayaag Akbar's Leila Leila: A Novel by Prayaag Akbar is set in the near future in an Indian town (one may call it Purity Town) where the obsession with 'purity,' caste, class, and community has reached its high point. In this town, a mother (Shalini) searches for her daughter (Leila) who was taken away from her, many years ago, because she and her husband refused to succumb to the new divisive and controlling social order. The narrative of the novel begins in medias res. It oscillates between the present, where Shalini searches desperately for Leila, and the past, as Shalini recounts how she met her husband (Riz), Leila's childhood, and her days at Purity Camp. Woven seamlessly into this story are descriptions of various aspects of Purity Town. These descriptions are puzzle pieces. When one puts them together, they reveal a dystopian world that is perhaps not so different from our own. A familiar hierarchy The insignia of the Council that governs the 'walled' town (where each 'sector' is enclosed within walls) in the novel is a pyramid (an "onyx monstrosity" with a white tip). This pyramid structure is reflective of the town's 'eternal' social order that "found the fissures and crannies, pried the city apart like volcanic rock." At the top of the social hierarchy are the small population of rich merchants, factory owners, builders for the British (hints at a form of neocolonialism), and all those who helped raise the new city. These are the privileged flag-bearers of 'purity,' who promote, in the name of ancient culture, the division of the world on the basis of surnames, communities, castes, and creeds. At the bottom of this structure are the masses: the large population of people residing below the network of flyroads (a network of roads built several feet above the ground), in dilapidated apartment complexes, or in slums at the edges of Purity Town. Among these people are the Slummers who can be found wading through garbage, looking for things to sell. Caste exists alongside class. The upper sections have flyroads so they do not have to see the "impossible filth" below. Despite the filth that covers the streets, the people of the town, ironically, pursue the idea of 'purity' relentlessly. The notion of 'purity' is invoked not just in terms of physical filth but also in association with caste, religion, and gender. This is a hierarchical arrangement that one is not unfamiliar with, though one may happen to ignore its dystopian dimensions especially in the present-day. It is a hierarchy that determines and is determined by infrastructure, political institutions, and religious and cultural practices in the world of the novel and in our own world. Religion, in the novel, is a significant element in the lives of people. Purity Town is a town of hypocritical man-gods, an idea that is taken from the contemporary Indian political and religious scene. Women of course, of course women In all divisive and controlling societies, there is an attempt to control women's sexuality, since to maintain 'purity,' it is imperative that there be no mixing of sectors. Shalini and Riz belong to two different sectors. After their marriage, they move away from their respective home-sectors to settle in a location that is inhabited by those who do not succumb to the social order by choice and by those who are forced to live there because they have been outcasted from their own sectors. Shalini is later sent to Purity Camp, which, in the words of Dr Iyer, is a camp for those women who have 'sacrificed' their purity. However, the women that Shalini and the readers meet in Purity Camp are not weak and gullible women who may easily give-in to forms of control. In fact, as Dr Iyer himself remarks, they are women who are aware of what they stand against and are ready to bear the consequences of their actions. Shalini says, "These were strange and beautiful women with the courage to slash at every expectation." Once outside the camp, these women are made to live in crumbling residential complexes located on the outskirts of Purity Town, so they may not pollute the rest, and perform peon duties at various ministries of the Council. Shalini recognizes that there are certain benefits of living at the margins. At the margins, there are no walls and sectors and the social structure can be challenged as there is an intermingling of people from different sectors, people who carry their anger within them. Forms of control The Council practices various forms of control to not allow the anger of the masses to manifest itself as any form of revolution. Forms of control are used to keep rebellious (even 'anti-national' tendencies) in check. First and foremost, the Council uses certain agents of control. In the novel, they are referred to as the Repeaters. The Repeaters, as Shalini tells us, are a loose band of armed men in their twenties and thirties, who guard the communities and patrol the walls. They are seen forcefully entering the homes of people and beating them to pulp. Interestingly, nobody knows how closely associated the Repeaters are to the Council but it is an acknowledged fact that they are more important to the Council than they let on. Besides control through agents, there are more direct, internalized, and effective forms of control that the Council (and governments around the world) practice, some of which Akbar explores with minute observation and impeccable skill. Firstly, there are the ideas routine and work ethic. Shalini says that the Council is determined to instill discipline. Once disciplined to follow a routine, people tend not to waver, tend not to think about anything else besides the timed tasks at hand. Samuel Becket has famously said that "habit is a great deadener." Moreover, a work ethic centered on the idea of exhausting people till all they need is their beds and sleep further negates the possibilities of resistance. Coupled with this is the illusion of security; the government promotes the idea that all citizens are protected by law. Instilling a sense of guilt is yet another way through which governments control their citizens. The idea of guilt and the ways in which governments exploit it has been explored in the works of writers like Franz Kafka (The Trial) and thinkers like Sigmund Freud (Civilization and its Discontents). Freud, for instance, writes, "Civilization... obtains mastery over the individual's dangerous desire for aggression... by setting up an agency within him [the super-ego that generates a sense of guilt] to watch over it, like a garrison in a conquered city." In Leila, Shalini feels guilty in marrying Riz and having to undergo rigourous paperwork to do so. She says, "It wasn't against the law, but they made you feel like you'd done something terrible." Finally, the Council decrees that people must be isolated and live in perpetual fear. It exploits loneliness, not allowing people to connect, building physical and metaphorical walls between them. Modes of resistance Perhaps the most important way to resist such control is through thought. There is a reason why the 'crime' of thought and the Thought Police in George Orwell's 1984 are particularly terrifying. In Leila, a inmate of Purity Camp called Sana makes a telling remark regarding the 'liberal' attitude towards women's higher education. She says, "It makes them feel they've been very benevolent to us, to the young women... Look how it used to be. Look what we allow now. They want us in college, but they don't want us to think. That is what's dangerous." To think is to question, to question is to take the first step towards resistance. An important aspect of thought is memory. In Leila, Shalini refers to remembrance as an alarm, a siren that plies round her head. While at Purity Camp, she says, "That's what all of us were like at Camp. Doing desperate little things so we could remember what was normal." Remembrance is significantly linked to story-telling. At Purity Camp, women from different walks of life share their stories of love and injustice. Shalini finds herself, night after night, weighed down by these stories that came from every side, demanding submission. This act of connecting beyond the sectors, beyond the assigned identity markers, through the power of words is important and subversive. Thought, in the novel, also translates into action. People choose to live outside walled sectors, in wall-less communities; they admit their kids into the few existing 'mixed' schools; people find their ways around the Repeaters, creating fake identity cards to move across sectors; there is political graffiti on the walls that serves as visible signs of protest; there is the news of the Slummers setting fire to trash-mountains in landfills; and there is Shalini's incessant search for Leila. Have we heard this story before? The story of Leila seems to be one that we have heard before. This, I believe, is because of two reasons. One, a number of tropes and themes in Leila have been inspired by certain iconic dystopian works including Orwell's 1984 and Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. Two (and perhaps more importantly), what we witness in the novel is not very far from what we experience in our immediate environment. The novel is so close to our reality, our society. The novel hits the nail right on the head. It is a warning, a wake-up call, a red flag, a slap-in-the-face. The contemporary relevance of the novel cannot be undermined. It warns against a divided society where the sense of difference (of class, caste, creed, and so on) among people is used by governments to exercise control and even perpetuate hate towards certain groups. Here, I am thinking of the recent debates surrounding the #NotInMyName campaign in India. The marches and the campaign, initiated by the documentary film-maker Saba Dewan, to protest against the recent instances of communal and caste-based violence in India, received criticism for being Brahminical in its inception. A number of responses to this criticism popped up on the inter-webs. In an article titled "Is #NotInMyName All Equal to Brahminism?", published on Raiot, Trevor Jeyaraj makes an excellent case for the campaign as an effort to come together even as the contradictions among people remain unsettled. Jeyaraj writes, "If we do not stop whatever is possible, that dreadful day is not far when a Dalit who is a Hindu will start lynching a fellow Dalit Muslim because the former was more Hindu than he was a Dalit and the latter was Muslim First and thus a lesser Dalit in the former’s eyes." This is perhaps exactly what Prayaag Akbar's Leila, like its more popular and critically acclaimed contemporary work Arundhati Roy's The Ministry of Utmost Happiness , is trying to tell us. ___________________ Leila: A Novel by Prayaag Akbar, published by Simon & Schuster India, 2017.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Akshi

    Take a pinch of 1984, some of Brave New World, a sprinkling of Haider (the film) and may be a bunch of other works of dystopian literature, squeeze in a generous dash of various dimensions of inequality in India, and what you get is Leila. A mother looking for a daughter that cannot be found, cities divided by walls, surveillance, control , "Purity for all", fraternal friction and treachery, pollution, sewage, caste etc. etc.While the combination could have been a promising work, it looks except Take a pinch of 1984, some of Brave New World, a sprinkling of Haider (the film) and may be a bunch of other works of dystopian literature, squeeze in a generous dash of various dimensions of inequality in India, and what you get is Leila. A mother looking for a daughter that cannot be found, cities divided by walls, surveillance, control , "Purity for all", fraternal friction and treachery, pollution, sewage, caste etc. etc.While the combination could have been a promising work, it looks exceptionally forced - trying too hard to create something that is haunting and stunning and failing at it. I struggled getting through this (but finished it nevertheless) and I must confess it broke my heart because there was too much optimism in my head about it. Probably because of the noise it was making everywhere, or was it the blurb by Jerry Pinto on the cover? I guess, that's just the gift you get when you are a privileged writer.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Eric Anderson

    There’s been a notably high number of dystopian novels being published in recent years and it feels like this reflects a widespread anxiety. Novels such as “Station Eleven”, “The Country of Ice Cream Star”, “The Power” and “Hazards of Time Travel” have all taken very different approaches to creating scarily convincing counter-realities to our present landscape, especially in regards to misogynistic attitudes towards women. It’s always interesting to see how new dystopian fiction tries to create There’s been a notably high number of dystopian novels being published in recent years and it feels like this reflects a widespread anxiety. Novels such as “Station Eleven”, “The Country of Ice Cream Star”, “The Power” and “Hazards of Time Travel” have all taken very different approaches to creating scarily convincing counter-realities to our present landscape, especially in regards to misogynistic attitudes towards women. It’s always interesting to see how new dystopian fiction tries to create an urgent, radical dialogue with society today. The presumption being: if we don’t pay attention to what’s happening around us this nightmarish landscape might come sooner than we think. In the case of “The Handmaid’s Tale”, Atwood has famously said the novel contains nothing which hasn’t already happened in the world. Prayaag Akbar’s debut novel “Leila” deals directly with issues of the caste system in India which has such a far-reaching, complex history and continues to incite horrific instances of violence. The novel takes the divisions between castes to the extreme where physical walls are erected to separate communities from each other, shore in resources for members of “elite” castes and strive towards a “purity” of race and social status. This is filtered through the perspective of Shalini who mourns the disappearance of her daughter Leila when she was suddenly lost after Shalini was seized and taken to a government-sanctioned reform camp. For years she’s secretly schemed how to find her daughter again amidst an aggressively conservative and strict system. Finally her plans might be carried out. We follow her journey as she puts her plot into action and recalls the horrific events which led to this dire situation. Read my full review of Leila by Prayaag Akbar on LonesomeReader

  6. 5 out of 5

    Preethi

    It is actually a 3.5 star book, but I have to give it 4 stars because of how it made me feel - shudder in the knowledge that the dystopian world of this book could actually be a reality. I also appreciated the details in the plot which make it an Indian story. I thought the plot had a great premise, but weakened a bit midway, making for a weak ending. The literature and narration were good, a refreshing feeling after the recent bad crop of Indian authors in English. The effort to close the story t It is actually a 3.5 star book, but I have to give it 4 stars because of how it made me feel - shudder in the knowledge that the dystopian world of this book could actually be a reality. I also appreciated the details in the plot which make it an Indian story. I thought the plot had a great premise, but weakened a bit midway, making for a weak ending. The literature and narration were good, a refreshing feeling after the recent bad crop of Indian authors in English. The effort to close the story this complex, with very few open endings, all in the spread of one book is commendable too. Read this book if you've felt a growing uncertainty if the world in Atwood's Handmaiden's Tale would be a reality... Leila's world is close and could be in our neighborhood.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Pranav Singh

    I read the book because I saw the brilliant trailer for it's Netflix adaptation. The author does a great job at building up the premise of a totalitarian regime that wouldn't take a lot of change to get to, from the world's current hard right political swing. It's all downhill from there. What promises to be a warning against totalitarianism and savarna economic and social dominance in the 21st century instead ends up being a collection of fears highlighted by the left leaning media with a wannab I read the book because I saw the brilliant trailer for it's Netflix adaptation. The author does a great job at building up the premise of a totalitarian regime that wouldn't take a lot of change to get to, from the world's current hard right political swing. It's all downhill from there. What promises to be a warning against totalitarianism and savarna economic and social dominance in the 21st century instead ends up being a collection of fears highlighted by the left leaning media with a wannabe mother-daughter story arc that never fully satisfies or scares. For instance, the worst thing that happens in a purity camp? The lead character gets addicted to some sort of muscle relaxants and is helped by a supposedly good doctor. In comparison the prison chapters in Shantaram are so vivid that you end up feeling imprisoned. Everything feels half baked and forced. Almost like the author got stoned and thought this is what the BJP government can become. But like every stoner he has gone on a tangent before jumping to another tangent without focussing on creating a well rounded universe. In summary, this book is a lazy imitation of a combination of classics, contextualised pretty horribly, to the Indian social situation. It's the Rahul Gandhi of dystopian novels.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Tanuj Solanki

    Akbar's aim - to show savarna privilege inverted - is somewhat blurred by the fact that he executes it all in what is, for all practical purposes, savarna utopia. But this isn't really a complaint. I've a lot to say about this, but right now let it suffice to say that Akbar has set the bar incredibly high for Indian writers of his generation. Akbar's aim - to show savarna privilege inverted - is somewhat blurred by the fact that he executes it all in what is, for all practical purposes, savarna utopia. But this isn't really a complaint. I've a lot to say about this, but right now let it suffice to say that Akbar has set the bar incredibly high for Indian writers of his generation.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Claire Fuller

    Some arresting descriptions of deprivation and terrible living conditions, and although I really wanted to keep reading to see what happened, the whole story didn't hang together well enough for me. I never fully understood who was controlling people apart from 'The Council' or why Shalini and her family was picked on (was it Riz or not?). Why didn't Shalini write to her mother if she was able to write to her friend and her nanny? There was too many unanswered plot points, although perhaps becau Some arresting descriptions of deprivation and terrible living conditions, and although I really wanted to keep reading to see what happened, the whole story didn't hang together well enough for me. I never fully understood who was controlling people apart from 'The Council' or why Shalini and her family was picked on (was it Riz or not?). Why didn't Shalini write to her mother if she was able to write to her friend and her nanny? There was too many unanswered plot points, although perhaps because of the life Shalini was forced to live, she didn't have the answers, so we didn't either. Maybe I wanted to know more about those 16 years when her daughter was gone - more about the daily grind. I know I'm not being very clear, but I was generally dissatisfied without really being able to say why.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Shujoy Dutta

    There are few novels I've read that have left me so disturbed. And it's not just the parental grief or the loss of privilege that Prayaag captures so heart-wrenchingly, it's the imminent possibility of India turning out like he describes. If there was an Indian novel for our times, this is it. Do read it. There are few novels I've read that have left me so disturbed. And it's not just the parental grief or the loss of privilege that Prayaag captures so heart-wrenchingly, it's the imminent possibility of India turning out like he describes. If there was an Indian novel for our times, this is it. Do read it.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Janani

    Holy shit this book gives Atwood a run for her money. Utterly terrifying.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ritwika Chakraborty

    When Netflix made Prayaag Akbar's book popular, that is when I picked this up. The trailer held promise, the book didn't. The book throughout was a chain of disappointment and empty plots. Each premise that was set, picked up the reader's interest and left them there...that is, without a conclusion. The futuristic story of a totalitarian society is believable, the regulations within it majorly relatable and nobody would be surprised if what Prayaag envisioned through this book, is how India turn When Netflix made Prayaag Akbar's book popular, that is when I picked this up. The trailer held promise, the book didn't. The book throughout was a chain of disappointment and empty plots. Each premise that was set, picked up the reader's interest and left them there...that is, without a conclusion. The futuristic story of a totalitarian society is believable, the regulations within it majorly relatable and nobody would be surprised if what Prayaag envisioned through this book, is how India turns out to be in 15-20 years. What put me off most is the unsatisfying ending to the magnanimous curiosity built up right from the first page. Here, I am not expecting a happy ending, I just wanted a satisfying one. Shalini's charactor was exceptionally tiresome to me. She kept victimizing herself as if she was the only person who was right while the rest of the world did wrong to her, always. While describing the dystopian society, prayaag hasn't given enough depth or insight into explaining exactly how the society is now ruled and managed, leaving multiple areas of ambiguity. I don't think I would be recommending this one.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    Although I am a fan of dystopian novels, I am also aware that there are certain tropes and that it is easy for this type of genre to fall prey to them. I am especially wary when they are compared to Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Unfortunately Prayaag Akbar’s novel suffers from this problem. There are some original ideas. One is that I have never read a dystopian novel which takes place in India. Also the plot centres around a woman who buries a candle in order to commemorate her daughter’s disapp Although I am a fan of dystopian novels, I am also aware that there are certain tropes and that it is easy for this type of genre to fall prey to them. I am especially wary when they are compared to Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Unfortunately Prayaag Akbar’s novel suffers from this problem. There are some original ideas. One is that I have never read a dystopian novel which takes place in India. Also the plot centres around a woman who buries a candle in order to commemorate her daughter’s disappearance/kidnapping. This is an undefined future that is a police state. From then onward the books uses every cliche that one finds in dystopian fiction; there’s the thought police, arrests, the sense of paranoia, the pervading main office, unnecessary deaths. It as all been done before. Not once did I admire any of the ideas proposed in Leila, simply because they’ve made appearances at one time or another in other novels. Yes I was disappointed but I do hope that other readers will get more out of the book than I did.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Monika

    No, Mama, prop me up to a high ceilinged garden. My tiny feet, they will walk on the artificial grass and sustain in an artificial environment. But Mama, never would I ever think of traversing the world with you. - The Leila I created in my mind Never before has a speculative fiction made me so uncomfortable and fearful. After all, even though they were fearsome, they didn't feel like home while this, Leila by Prayaag Akbar, felt so close to home that it started feeling like I am living in it. Thi No, Mama, prop me up to a high ceilinged garden. My tiny feet, they will walk on the artificial grass and sustain in an artificial environment. But Mama, never would I ever think of traversing the world with you. - The Leila I created in my mind Never before has a speculative fiction made me so uncomfortable and fearful. After all, even though they were fearsome, they didn't feel like home while this, Leila by Prayaag Akbar, felt so close to home that it started feeling like I am living in it. This book doesn't feel distant, it doesn't feel like a far-fetched future that might someday be our reality. It is now. This class division, this caste discrimination, this climate crisis - all of it is as real as our yearning for development. The only condition that it needs to fulfill in order to be called a social fiction instead of a speculative fiction is that the country turning its imaginative walls into real, concrete walls. A work of fiction, especially a speculative fiction, I feel, can't represent the whole world in less than 400 pages. Thus, the novel is a representative of that large fragment of society that discriminates, oppresses, tolerates and resists everyday. It doesn't represent the handful of people who, either have been ignorant of the discrimination or have unlearned and learnt to love all. I have never felt that in my time, society has comprised itself with the poor, the oppressed, the intentionally forgotten and ignored section. In fact, I haven't ever believed in a society. It has always been an 'amalgamation' of various societies. Prayaag Akbar has done a wonderful job in depicting the fragmentary society that we live in. The only problem that I felt with the book is that it wasn't able to maintain its strength throughout the work. To me, it felt like the narration had lost itself as it started approaching the end. Don't let this opinion bar you from picking up this book though. This is a book that needs to be picked up, read, realised and change the self that you've been carrying with yourself all along. I realised that I have a dark side in me, have you?

  15. 5 out of 5

    Prateek Nigam

    There are more reasons to not read this book than to read. But because of the subject matter, I would recommend reading it. Given the day and age we are living in, it's important to read about how things could get if we were lose grip on our humanity in our un-secular pursuits. But tread with caution. There are very basic problems. The writing does not stretch things far enough for me to call it dystopian fiction. World building is not convincing. Central plot is put on the back burner thereby gi There are more reasons to not read this book than to read. But because of the subject matter, I would recommend reading it. Given the day and age we are living in, it's important to read about how things could get if we were lose grip on our humanity in our un-secular pursuits. But tread with caution. There are very basic problems. The writing does not stretch things far enough for me to call it dystopian fiction. World building is not convincing. Central plot is put on the back burner thereby giving way to long flashbacks. Named characters that show up for just a scene, for smalltalk or inclusivity and have no bearing on the plot. The other main characters ( Naz ) which are well written do not have any role to play in the plot either. Prose is inconsistent. Dialogue is choppy, unconvincing. It's too short to be a finished novel. Too distracted to be a good story.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Qais Palekar

    It starts off great. It introduces you to a very future which is very unsettling and also seems very possible. It also shows you how you got to that future. I didn't like the ending that much. But overall it's a great book It starts off great. It introduces you to a very future which is very unsettling and also seems very possible. It also shows you how you got to that future. I didn't like the ending that much. But overall it's a great book

  17. 5 out of 5

    Pooja Solanki

    Feels like author took "inspiration" from bunch of famous work like handmaid's take, 1984,etc. And added a little indian tadka. Feels like author took "inspiration" from bunch of famous work like handmaid's take, 1984,etc. And added a little indian tadka.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Likhak K

    I BOUGHT THIS BOOK BECAUSE I THOUGHT THE PLOT WAS INTERESTING. It promised a fresh story and a George Orwell feel from what I knew... But it contained the type of disappointment only contemporary Indian authors can give me *sighs*. The writing is passable. I liked how it thoroughly described the trash, the heat and the mass's obsessiveness and madness are throughout. The characters are flat and uninteresting with a bland P.O.V. And I hate it especially when the main character is a parrot of modern I BOUGHT THIS BOOK BECAUSE I THOUGHT THE PLOT WAS INTERESTING. It promised a fresh story and a George Orwell feel from what I knew... But it contained the type of disappointment only contemporary Indian authors can give me *sighs*. The writing is passable. I liked how it thoroughly described the trash, the heat and the mass's obsessiveness and madness are throughout. The characters are flat and uninteresting with a bland P.O.V. And I hate it especially when the main character is a parrot of modern values. Contrasting that hero is a bad dude becoming religious that will automatically roll him down to fanatic territory (seriously what?). Anyone who is open-minded needs to drink beer (or wine or whiskey), have sex with their girlfriend/boyfriend, act like a straw feminist, party a lot, be a wild youth, swear an oath to follow each and every contemporary and politically correct thinking and GOD FORBID any friend or relative tries to preach otherwise. Look, we all love freedom and modernism here. And I get it Shalini symbolizes that. But it does not feel it is her point of view. The pain of losing her family is hers, the hatred and defiance is hers, but then the author shoves all the Progressive India thoughts so dryly it gives me an itch in the throat. [Flame War Territory: Proceed with caution] There is huge difference in why Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhist and other faiths' people start to follow their own religion strictly. But this book lumps everyone together obsessing with backtracking to past. Author, dude, that's not how it works. And if you've written this book inspired by current issues, then it's even more off the point. You should have focused on hatred rather than purity and past values. No one actually cares because they themselves don't know what those things actually are. Hatred, power and false promise of a fantastic future are the driving points of today's insanity. (I did see a touch of this.) Well, this book is getting enough hate from Hindutvas because it is rumored to attack them. It's not. It is only attacking political corruption that focuses on crowd manipulation and goon terror. And I appreciate the author is brave enough to write a book on contemporary issues as they are happening. Author, you have potential. Write a much better book!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Dan Sihota

    I first became aware of Leila by Prayaag Akbar after watching the recent Netflix series of the same name (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leila_(...). The TV series is spread over six episodes, while the book is much shorter at just over two hundred pages in paperback, so as expected, the book is very different from the TV series. Dystopian fiction is not a new genre, but this is the first time I have come across such a story set in India, so I was keen to read the book for myself. The story of Le I first became aware of Leila by Prayaag Akbar after watching the recent Netflix series of the same name (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leila_(...). The TV series is spread over six episodes, while the book is much shorter at just over two hundred pages in paperback, so as expected, the book is very different from the TV series. Dystopian fiction is not a new genre, but this is the first time I have come across such a story set in India, so I was keen to read the book for myself. The story of Leila is quite straightforward, a woman, Shalini, is searching for the whereabouts of her daughter, Leila, from whom she was separated many years ago. However, much of the book is devoted to describing how this totalitarian regime took over and began implementing its policies. While the TV series attempted to expand on the plot by including more characters and sub-plots, the plot of the novel is almost non-existent. For someone unfamiliar with dystopian fiction, this book might have a very different effect on them as it raises all kinds of moral and philosophical questions, especially when it comes to maintaining human rights as resources start becoming scarce. However, for anyone familiar with dystopian fiction, many of the themes discussed in this book are not all that new, and to hold their interest the book would have needed to offer a little more than just transposing a dystopian vision of the future to India. I liked the premise of Leila and really wanted to like it, unfortunately, it failed to live up to my initial expectations. However, this is not a bad book, it's short, easy to read, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in reading dystopian fiction set in India.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Pravesh Bhardwaj

    It is too early to say it but I have a feeling LEILA might become a classic. Fantastic, it shook me, enthralled me and had me in its grip. Now I need to find a way to unclench my teeth.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    I don't understand what the hype is about for this.. I don't understand what the hype is about for this..

  22. 4 out of 5

    Naseem Ambar Haidry

    Leila was a terrifying read for me. The city described in Prayaag Akbar's Leila features a monstrous society in which tribalism and communalism reign supreme, any sense of shared humanity has been completely stamped out, and those at the top of the societal hierarchy blithely, shamelessly, and cruelly exploit and control those below them. The notions of cultural and biological "purity" are used to justify the control of the lives and bodies of women. The rich live in pristine walled communities, Leila was a terrifying read for me. The city described in Prayaag Akbar's Leila features a monstrous society in which tribalism and communalism reign supreme, any sense of shared humanity has been completely stamped out, and those at the top of the societal hierarchy blithely, shamelessly, and cruelly exploit and control those below them. The notions of cultural and biological "purity" are used to justify the control of the lives and bodies of women. The rich live in pristine walled communities, showering their waste and refuse on the poor who slave for them and live in adjoining slums amid disease, filth, and poverty. If this description sounds jarringly similar to our present society to you, you will understand why Leila is such a terrifying read. If one is being lazy, one could simply dismiss Leila as an Indian version of The Handmaid’s Tale. Leila does borrow heavily from the narrative set-up of The Handmaid’s Tale, both feature a female protagonist who is in near-imprisonment in a dystopian world after having lost a child to the forces that established the oppressive ruling order. The protagonist of this novel, Shalini, is an upper class and upper-caste woman who marries outside of her religion. This deems her 'polluted' in the eyes of the Council, who want to establish a 'pure' society, just like the one that existed thousands of years ago. Leila is taken away from Shalini, to save her from the pollution of her parents, and for sixteen years Shalini has lived with her loss and survived only through the determination to find her. Prayaag Akbar excels in the sensitive depiction of Shalini's painful longing for her daughter and her recollections of their shared time. He also doesn't shy away from exposing the hypocrisy of Shalini who once treated her poor servants as dirty, inferior, lazy, and grasping. This hypocrisy is shared, in lesser or greater degrees, by all the liberal elites of India and beyond. As a protagonist who is compassionate, prejudiced, selfish, and courageous Shalini is a powerful and relatable character. Leila unflinchingly explores the purity-fetish we Indians have, one that has created deep and violent divisions on the basis of diet, language, caste, religion, culture and what-not, and how a society in which such notions of purity and orthodox values reign supreme would look like. Leila does a good job of showing us, the privileged classes, the mirror. How easily and unthinkingly we demonise those who are not like us and how aggressively we go about excluding those who are less privileged than us from the wealth and resources we have unjustly and cruelly hoarded over generations. The world of Leila is a dystopia for us, India's urban middle classes, but it is already a reality for millions of Indian slum dwellers and drought-afflicted villagers and tribals who have been evicted from their homes so that we can enjoy 24-hour electricity and all the trappings of modern consumerist societies.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    The blurb for this novel likens it to an Indian Handmaid’s Tale: Leila does for the barbarity of contemporary Indian nationalism what The Handmaid’s Tale did for the yoke of patriarchy. It is urgent, gripping, topical, disturbing, and announces a talent we’ll be talking about for years to come. – Neel Mukherjee But I think this novel has greater currency than that. A novel which explores the development of gated communities to keep out The Other has its origins in Apartheid South Africa, in the Wh The blurb for this novel likens it to an Indian Handmaid’s Tale: Leila does for the barbarity of contemporary Indian nationalism what The Handmaid’s Tale did for the yoke of patriarchy. It is urgent, gripping, topical, disturbing, and announces a talent we’ll be talking about for years to come. – Neel Mukherjee But I think this novel has greater currency than that. A novel which explores the development of gated communities to keep out The Other has its origins in Apartheid South Africa, in the White Australia Policy, and in contemporary refugee ‘management’. At the domestic level there is the emergence of gated estates in wealthy western nations. All those apartments with keycodes for the front door and burglar alarms on ordinary suburban houses. Electric operated gates that only an owner can open. All these are intimations of an obsession with security and a fear of Outsiders. And as Leila shows, while the novels segregates its walled communities by religious disposition, it’s as much about protecting possessions (including women) as it is about maintaining ‘purity’. The story begins with Shalini performing a ritual in remembrance of her daughter Leila who was ‘taken’ sixteen years ago when she was three. Gradually the reader realises that the husband beside her is dead, and that Shalini is surviving on memories. But despite her ostensible cooperation with the rules of ‘Purity One’ , Shalini is a determined woman and she fervently believes that she will be reunited with Leila soon. The walls that surround The Towers are explained. Purity Towers is a high-rise of solitary widows sedated into submission and where no children are allowed. The rules are enforced by ‘wardens’ who are really spies looking for any evidence of non-conformity. Shalini is 43 now, and she was brought there against her will when she was 28. Her city has been segregated into sub-groups, separated by massive walls and armed guards at the gates through which workers from the Slums pass in and out, submitting to intrusive ID checks, strip searching and a change of clean clothing on their way. Within, everyone has the same religion. Busybodies poke through Hindu garbage for bones which would indicate the eating of meat. This is a dystopia of extreme intolerance and an apartheid built on diversity not of skin colour. To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2018/10/07/l...

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ashish

    Firstly, it's extremely heartening to see new Indian authors who are delving into genres like dystopia and speculative fiction rather than treading familiar safe waters and writing about romance and college. These are some of my favourite genres and books which are about them in an Indian context is great. Last year it was Sidin's medical thriller "Bombay Fever" which brought something new to the table. This book is heavily inspired by Atwood's The Handmaid's tale. Let's get this out of the way f Firstly, it's extremely heartening to see new Indian authors who are delving into genres like dystopia and speculative fiction rather than treading familiar safe waters and writing about romance and college. These are some of my favourite genres and books which are about them in an Indian context is great. Last year it was Sidin's medical thriller "Bombay Fever" which brought something new to the table. This book is heavily inspired by Atwood's The Handmaid's tale. Let's get this out of the way first. Despite familiarities, it doesn't come across as incredibly derivative. It establishes the premise of a fascist societal organisation which breeds on hatred and targeting people and communities and it also follows the story of a victimised woman who is looking for her child who has gotten lost in the system. They both show the toll that it takes on them as they are ostracised, subjugated and their rights taken away. Despite all this, the book manages to stay relevant as in its core it is about the way society is being split along communal lines and the tools of propaganda are being used to manipulate human nature; using the inherent selfishness and self-interest of people against each other, inculcating hatred and fanning a sense of self preservation and purity to break society as we know it. It shows how this breeds a sense of need for conformity which makes it easier for the powers-that-be to control the masses. Those who choose to not be restricted to these cookie-cutter shapes are victimised and chided, bent into submission or discarded from society, who seep through the cracks and somehow try to eke out an existence. It is a scary and yet possibly realistic preview of things to come as the direction we seem to be heading is one which seems to reward a conformity to a monolithic direction of thought and anyone who does not agree to it is abused and tagged as anti-national, anti-social, enemy of the state, etc. The increase of gated communities and gentrification of society, the use of political, financial and social power to override other's rights, and the use of propaganda to create a unified public opinion is something that is happening at a startling level around us and it doesn't bode well for people who do not believe in these things. A really good book which deserves to be read by everyone.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sulagna Ghosh

    Prayaag Akbar’s dystopian novel “Leila” portrays a bleak universe where the existence of abstract ideals like love and humanity are unquestionably negated. As the citizens of “modern” India descend into savage-like madness to own everything at any cost, access to basic amenities like pure air and clean drinking water seems as if a distant dream. In the image of June Osborne from Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Shalini loses all that once formed the crux of her being in the span of a sin Prayaag Akbar’s dystopian novel “Leila” portrays a bleak universe where the existence of abstract ideals like love and humanity are unquestionably negated. As the citizens of “modern” India descend into savage-like madness to own everything at any cost, access to basic amenities like pure air and clean drinking water seems as if a distant dream. In the image of June Osborne from Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Shalini loses all that once formed the crux of her being in the span of a single day. Many reviewers have simmered down the theme of this novel as the search of a forlorn mother for her effervescent daughter. However, I felt that beyond the simplistic portrayal of militant Hindu nationalism as the omnipotent villain lies the journey of the protagonist in which she comes to terms with her privilege—even when disgraced, she enjoys far superior treatment than that meted out to those belonging to the scavenger social strata. Akbar’s slight of hand when it comes to characterization must be commended—Shalini is much more nuanced than June as the author reveals that even while waging a quiet yet poignant battle against caste-based collectivism, Shalini hasn’t been able to shed her upper-caste notion of privilege. Although I wish that Akbar had shed Eurocentrism in his worldbuilding—he names the segregated areas “the Slum” and “the Towers, for instance, when an explicit Indian setting offered ample scope to be creative with language use, I can’t wait to see how it translates to the visual medium in @netflix_in’s TV series.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Chandni

    Dystopia works best when it seems plausible. Leila, a novel set in urban India seems like a story that could be not too far in the future. The well to do live in gated colonies, the 'slummers' live in tarpauline sheet hutments. Landfills catch fire, gutting the lives and livelihoods of those who depend on it. Temperatures soar and the air hangs heavy with pollution. The sky is a mottled grey and schools are segregated by class. With obvious parallels to The Handmaid's Tale, Leila draws on themes Dystopia works best when it seems plausible. Leila, a novel set in urban India seems like a story that could be not too far in the future. The well to do live in gated colonies, the 'slummers' live in tarpauline sheet hutments. Landfills catch fire, gutting the lives and livelihoods of those who depend on it. Temperatures soar and the air hangs heavy with pollution. The sky is a mottled grey and schools are segregated by class. With obvious parallels to The Handmaid's Tale, Leila draws on themes like inequality, brutality needed to keep 'offenders' in check, mistreatment of women, attacks on 'liberal' thinking, justifying it all for a higher goal (here, purity). And yet, Leila holds its own, raising a mirror to our present society where maids must sit on the floor, caste shapes opportunities, and the privileged can cocoon themselves in comfort. At times, the descriptions can confuse. "A sprinkle of rust came on to my sweaty palm, glittering like sushi roe". And though these words jarred at first (the protagonist is speaking of her experience in The Towers, where all people who don't confirm to rigid norms are sent to), they are aimed at a reader who has seen the orange of roe. Prayaag Akbar is at once making you, the privileged reader, an accomplice, playing on your guilt as you read of the horrors of the dystopia he constructs. All in all, an interesting addition to Indian writing in English.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Aldeena

    Gripping from the very start, this novel is immensely readable. No frills or clunkiness to distract or annoy, Akbar has a wonderful style of writing. A word for the production quality: this book is beautiful---to read and to hold. The jacket illustration by Harshad Marathe is stunning! If you even read just the first chapter, the illustration will blow your mind with how apt and lovely it is. As for the story itself, many have called it 'dystopian'. How I wish I could call it a dystopian novel. Th Gripping from the very start, this novel is immensely readable. No frills or clunkiness to distract or annoy, Akbar has a wonderful style of writing. A word for the production quality: this book is beautiful---to read and to hold. The jacket illustration by Harshad Marathe is stunning! If you even read just the first chapter, the illustration will blow your mind with how apt and lovely it is. As for the story itself, many have called it 'dystopian'. How I wish I could call it a dystopian novel. The walls, the repeaters are our reality today, only the walls are not a physical manifestation yet. Perhaps a better defining genre might be horror. Because it is the horror of our times. My only grouse was regarding the discussion about the world abroad (a small part where it talks about the US, etc.). It is an unnecessary interval that opens up questions without answering any. And leads to nothing either. It could have been cropped out to make the novel flow better and tighter. 'Leila' is both terrifying and terrific. One of the best debut novels I have read in recent times.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Pragya

    A dystopian novel written in the backdrop of India's caste divisions, population problems and resource crunch that has worsened over time as global warming hits hard. A new order has begun to rise where castes get priority and 'purity' of caste is the only thing that matters. Amid this crisis, a mother searches for her daughter, Leila, whom she has lost to the chaos of the new world. This was a wonderful read. Prayaag Akbar has written with sharp imagery and metaphors that seem too real and hence A dystopian novel written in the backdrop of India's caste divisions, population problems and resource crunch that has worsened over time as global warming hits hard. A new order has begun to rise where castes get priority and 'purity' of caste is the only thing that matters. Amid this crisis, a mother searches for her daughter, Leila, whom she has lost to the chaos of the new world. This was a wonderful read. Prayaag Akbar has written with sharp imagery and metaphors that seem too real and hence scary. I had goosebumps at certain points because the tale seemed eerily familiar in the backdrop of India talking about caste policing, moral policing, the lack of justice, the poverty-ridden sections of the society bearing the brunt, the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer - all under the claim of criticizing the Western Culture and carrying forward our 'traditions'. This was the first Indian dystopian novel I read that talked about such complicated subjects in such an easy language. A must-read!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Avradeep Sinha

    It has shades of 1984 and The Handmaid's Tale's Gilead society, yet it is very much original and set in a dystopian parallel futuristic India where the boundaries and walls exist among classes, caste and strata of people. It eerily mirrors what India could be in future given the current situation in India is allowed to thrive long term. Amidst this back drop there is a desperate quest for the lead character Shalini's daughter Leila whom she had lost during Leila's childhood. This novel manages t It has shades of 1984 and The Handmaid's Tale's Gilead society, yet it is very much original and set in a dystopian parallel futuristic India where the boundaries and walls exist among classes, caste and strata of people. It eerily mirrors what India could be in future given the current situation in India is allowed to thrive long term. Amidst this back drop there is a desperate quest for the lead character Shalini's daughter Leila whom she had lost during Leila's childhood. This novel manages to evoke emotions and also depict how certain sections of society were treated. Here, Repeaters took the role of moral policemen exhibiting brutality and curbing freedom, acting on orders of privileged section. It is a reassuring debut from Prayaag and I am quite eager to see how the Netflix adaptation of Leila turns out.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Tarun

    This fast-paced book extrapolates India's present into a disturbingly familiar future where walls and hierarchies define all social interactions. The environment's all messed up and people have turned inwards to the musty familiarity and security of tribal/caste-based groups. There is almost no dissent. Leila's fuming landfills, depleted aquifers,slums, unsafe 'outroads' and gated communities reminded me of Delhi/National Capital Region. The author tries to ' look into the seeds of time and say This fast-paced book extrapolates India's present into a disturbingly familiar future where walls and hierarchies define all social interactions. The environment's all messed up and people have turned inwards to the musty familiarity and security of tribal/caste-based groups. There is almost no dissent. Leila's fuming landfills, depleted aquifers,slums, unsafe 'outroads' and gated communities reminded me of Delhi/National Capital Region. The author tries to ' look into the seeds of time and say which grain will grow and which will not'. The forecast is bleak and grey. All in all, this is a great debut novel. I loved the cover art.

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