Solo by Rana Dasgupta: A review

Sixteenth book reviewed as part of the 130 Challenge.

This is a feeler’s book. While you’re reading this book, you don’t think through the story, you feel your way through it. You are taken on an epic journey through a century of existence – subdued passions, resigned fates, a grudging surrender to the onslaught of time that is made inevitable by the mere act of existing. You will feel the layers of time peel away and color your senses with their distinctive hues, as seen from the recollections of a blind old man who has nothing but his daydreams to call his own.

The book is divided into two halves, the first half being a brilliant retelling of the history of Bulgaria, slightly fictionalized and dramatized I believe, but splendid nevertheless. This is actually the personal story of Ulrich, a Bulgarian centenarian who has lived through it all. The second half is the story of three young people from the Balkans: Khatuna, a passionate young woman full of ambition; Boris, an insanely talented musician with an aura of eccentricity about him and Irakli, a deeply emotional poet with unrestrained empathy. Dasgupta does well to document the tumultuous lives that they lead.

solo coverThere are some amazing metaphorical passages scattered throughout the book, which compels one to read this book cover to cover, without skipping anything, lest they miss something. Dasgupta paints lovely pictures with his effortless eloquence, of life in Europe in those days. He focuses particularly on the fall of Feudalism in Bulgaria, followed by the rise of Communism and then Capitalism, that Dasgupta describes as a sort of controlled chaos.

The interesting bit about the story is the way he has linked it to Einstein, something that even Tame SheWolf (who was kind enough to lend me her copy of the book to read) really appreciated about the book. She thought that he introduced Einstein as a human being to her and made her understand the man behind the genius so much more (words are mine, essence is hers). But what I liked was how he has cleverly used the towering persona of Einstein as a backdrop for developing the character of Ulrich. He is deeply touched by the genius of Einstein and his whole life somehow revolves around one small interaction with him. That interaction really piqued my interest and I was rewarded well towards the end for keeping my interest alive even though the story wasn’t going anywhere.

Yes, the story does follow an unusual path and it Cris-crosses quite a bit, but towards the end, there are no unfinished endings and every story gets closure. Something I really liked, after having read about so much regret (in Ulrich’s life).

This isn’t a book that will leave you happy with realization or aglow with wisdom. But it is a book that will not leave you empty. No, I’m not saying this because I don’t have words to praise it, but instead because it offers so much to you in one go that it is hard to put in a few brief lines. Okay that was overzealous praise, but I liked the book even though it wasn’t really a page turner and became quite slow after a really enthralling first half full of war and strife and survival (things I love to read about). I would recommend it to anyone who doesn’t mind a dollop of feelings to go with their metaphors.

Speaking of metaphors, don’t forget to check out the excerpts from this book, that I have so painstakingly typed out just for you, dear reader :P



  1. Now that you’ve written a review I want to scream: I love this book!

    I love how the book is split into his life and his daydreams. Bcz tell you what, life and people are more than just the realities that they live,’more than the sum of its parts’.

    And what kind of life? SO NORMAL. Starstruck by geniuses and celebrities, regrets, crushes, work, travel, politics, music, stupid disabling accidents, old-age, friends, passion, hurt, memories, daydreams! So normal Nothing great happens to him. Nothing in his life is a story that could be made into a movie. His escape into daydreams is his respite.
    And like you correctly put it, this book is “a grudging surrender to the onslaught of time that is made inevitable by the mere act of existing. ”

    I loved that little interaction with Einstein. For me, Einstein is and has lived larger than life. I couldn’t even imagine that he could be someone you could bump into; to which he’ll say something kind in return. It made Einstein so human. Ulrich’s obsessive refreshing of that incident and how he gives more meaning to that little moment in context of his own life as he makes sense of his failures.. so human again!

    Man, Rana Dasgupta is a brave genius. He captures so many ideas so beautifully. It all fits. It is such an emotionally intelligent book. I fucking loved it. (Yes, I am going to swear! That’s how much I loved it.)

    PS: You better bring back the copy in a seemingly untouched condition with the fly looking as deceivingly real as it does in this cover photo.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Kajol. You haven’t left anything for me to say :-)


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