This novel, a first attempt at writing by Bhattacharya is divided into 2 sections, the first being a collection of diary entries dated 1976 and the second opening 17 years later. The story is set against the Communist reign in Hungary during the 1970s. The centre of this novel is Immanuel Emperhazy, founder of the Gabriel Club, residing at El-Daj street. She is a complex, dark character and the entire burden of the novel rests on her fragile shoulders. Stretching from the epicentre which is her life are several lines, the three main of which are Janos, Stefan and Andras. The latter dominates the second book, just as Immanuele overshadows the first. Related to the above three are another tier of characters - America (Andras's twin sister), Julia Ambrus, a co-poet and Elemer.
What is the Gabriel Club? one might ask. It is a dissident society of intellectuals - poets, writers, painters and musicians - formed under a strict Big Brother regime, devoted to establishing freedom of speech, expression and most importantly the freedom to think and read as they please. Creativity, imagination and a passive non-acceptance of the state of things are their sole weapons against a suffocating, restrictive government.
Unfortunately this sustained resistance takes its toll on the members of the group. How? Find out in this novel by Bhattacharya; a writer whose style is articulate and descriptive. He has a way of starting his paragraphs with words and leaving the reader only with images and sensations at the end of it. He dips you in the waters of the Danube, dries you out on the streets of Budapest, intoxicates you on Hungarian skies and rainfall; thus filling your mind with strong and vivid pen pictures. It's almost as if one is physically transported to Budapest and once there, one is immediately embroiled in the ongoing incidents in the life of characters that spring out of the pages, take you by the arm and pull you into their minds.
On the flipside, the plot is convoluted and the novel drags at points. So, read this one when you have a little time on your hands.This article was first published on 24 Apr 2000.