Friday, January 8, 1999

The Finanacial Expert

by R.K. Narayan

Set in the mythical village of Malgudi, this subtle book tells the story of Margayya, a self-appointed financial wizard who helps peasants with their money matters.  One day, after being shamed by a peon at the big Co-Operative Bank, he decides to become very wealthy.  He goes to a priest, performs the rituals, and gets into a variety of money making schemes, offering high interest rates for the villagers’ savings.  But when Dr. Pal, the learned journalist, gets too friendly with Margayya’s spoiled son, things fall apart.

The story is told from Margayya’s point of view, so sometimes the reader loses track of what a self-occupied, greedy miser he must be, although he sincerely wishes a better life for his rather dim son.  The dialogue is quite sharp, and apt; having been to India, I think I understand the characters more than if I hadn’t.  The whole book, in fact, takes a rather detached, Indian approach, with little in the lines of plot and a rather desultory climax and denouement; and when Margayya loses all his wealth at the end, he merely stoically declares that he will begin again, without moralizing to his son or blaming himself.  The book is an appealing slice of Indian life, told in a light, comical way which I enjoyed.

four stars

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