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The word “thug” is derived from the Hindu and Irdu word “thag”, which in turn are derivative from the Sanskrit “sthagati” (to conceal). Their roots are Indian, describing a thief or swindler as early as 1300 A.D., and later an organization of criminals and assassins who purportedly from birth worship Kali, the Hindu goddess of death and destruction. Thug and the cult of Thuggee found its way into English usage through the British colonization of India, and the efforts of British Superintendent charged in the 1820s and 1830s with the eradication of these people who prayed on travels on the road. Revisionist history of the period, claims that the extent of this cult was exaggerated by the Empire to take and keep control of India by killing thousands of Indian. The author, M.J. Carter, claims that Mowgli in Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” was inspired by Thuggee children. This is an interesting short history about the etymology of the word “thug” on npr.org. See http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2013/11/18/245953619/what-a-thugs-life-looked-like-in-nineteenth-century-india

“The Strangler Vine” is an entertaining and fast-reading novel that is loosely based on this Victorian period in India, as narrated by the hero, Lieutenant Avery, of the East India Company. He and a non-conformist Jeremiah Blake, a talented ex-Captain of the East India Company, are charged with finding a certain poet-novelist, Mountstuart, who has written a novel that is scandalizing an important Raj and the East India Company. They traverse India from Calcutta to Jubbulpore and back to Mirzapore, where the Company is ostensibly mobilizing to travel north with thousands of soldiers who would need to be fed by famine starving Indians. There is rough historical context, as this did happen in 1837-38 which lead to the so-called Afghan War during which the British were slaughtered while trying to depose an Afghan ruler that they presumed was encouraging the Russians to invade northern India. The author kindly provides a historical afterward and a glossary of the Hindi words that are generously sprinkled throughout the novel to instill a sense of place.

The novel is pure entertainment and has a touch of a Hollywood movie in both action and character. If you have higher literary or historical expectations you might be disappointed, but the author is only aspiring to entertain and to impart some knowledge. I was not disappointed.

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