If I Have to be a Soldier | Nikhil J Alva | Book review

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If I have to be a soldier by Nikhil J Alva
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The Plot – What is ‘If I Have to be a Soldier’ about?

The plot starts with a revelation where the mad witch of the village sends a piercing wail into the night sky and prophecies that hellfire will rain down on the Mizo hills bringing mass destruction. At that same time the Bamboo starts flowering!

It’s set in 1967 with the background of the Mizo uprising after the widespread destruction brought about by the “Mautam”. The Mautam is a natural phenomenon witnessed by the states of  North Eastern India every 48 years when the Bamboo forest blooms and bears fruit. The large fruit attracts rats and after consuming the fruit, the rats multiply in thousands.Once the fruit is no longer available these rats then turn to the fields, thus destroying and human lives and bringing about famine. It was this famine and the Indian government’s apathy that caused unrest and disillusionment among the Mizos and they started an armed agitation for independence.

Captain Samuel Rego of 7, Bihar regiment has been summoned to interrogate a rebel Mizo leader who has been captured by the Indian BSF. When faced with the captive prisoner , Captain Rego, is shocked to learn that he is none other than his childhood hero and friend Sammy.

Who is the author of  “If I have to be a Soldier”?

Nikhil J ALva is the author of this book and this is his debut novel.Nikhil is a well known and award winning writer, producer and filmmaker and producer.He has spent a good amount of time in the North East India which gave the background for this book.His mother Ms Margaret Alva is a famous reformist and Indian politician and was actively involved in the negotiations between the Mizo rebels and the then Indian government.

Why you should read this book

1. Tribal life in the scenic Mizoram

India’s North Eastern States are scenic and the hills have been homes to many tribes for centuries. The novel is set in the Mizoram of old days, which was a part of Assam till 1972.The book takes us on a journey into the Mizo lifestyle giving fascinating facts about how they live and  the traditions and rituals they follow etc. Further it tells us how Christian missionaries converted the alleged savages to Christianity and how that caused a change in their ways of life.The history of the Mizo tribes makes this book a very engaging read as well, highlighting the treacherous but scenic  landscape and  the tribal culture.


2. The bond of Friendship

At it heart , “If I have to be a Soldier” is the story of the friendship between the half breed boy Sena or Captain Rego who was adopted by the Church preacher and a tribal boy Sammy. Sammy takes the weak Sena under his wing when he sees Sena being bullied and tormented by the tribal boys for being a half caste. Unfortunately some misunderstandings develop between them and both of them go their separate ways.Later when they happen to face each other as enemies, the childhood bond still bind them emotionally.Later, in a dramatic twist , when the commandant gives an order to shoot Sammy in a staged encounter, Sena cannot bear to be a silent witness to murdering Sammy in cold blood.What happens next makes this book a racy thriller that is so compelling that you keep turning pages.

3. A Forgotten War

Not many of us are well versed with the history of the Mizo War. In fact before independence, the Assam region already was a hotbed of many inter-tribal wars with fearful head hunters in every tribe but  in the post independence era , the whole region was simmering especially just after The Mautam which brought death and destruction to the tribals and the Indian government by not choosing to send help and relief made matters worse. It alienated the region and the people and the call for independence became stronger. This guerilla war was also termed the Vietnam of India. “If I have to be a Soldier” highlights the plight of the tribals and quite well and this is another highlight of the book for me.

What Could have been better

The Cover design

While the cover design in hues of fire , denotes the turmoil and war zone very well and the backdrop of smoke and fire  with bamboo huts and rats in bamboo forests , all help the narrative, still there is something that reduces the impact of the cover, it could be the title design or the two human figures taking up a lot of space on the cover, it is hard for me to point out.

The length of the book

The author should take it as compliment because I feel this was a good book but a bit short and I would not have minded reading more of it specially the sections about the tribal life and the cat and mouse chases in the forest.It took me at the most 3 hours to finish this book so it is a short read.

If I have to be a soldier by Nikhil J Alva

Book Specifications

Title : If I Was a Soldier

Author : Nikhil J Alva

Pages : 336

Genre : Fiction, War story, Friendship, Thriller

Language : English

Publisher : Harper Collins

Rating : 4/5

Buy the book HERE 


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This post is part of the Bookish League blog hop hosted by Bohemian Bibliophile

This review is powered by Blogchatter Book Review Program 

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