The Coffer Dams ~ Kamala Markandaya

240 pages ~ ★★★☆☆ ~ Digital Review Copy

Originally published in 1969, The Coffer Dams has just been republished by Hope Road with a striking new cover. What drew me to this book was how completely different to my typical reads it sounds, The Coffer Dams is described by the publishers as a ecological novel ahead of its time; that just drew me right in.

New release cover of The Coffer Dams

We follow Clinton, who heads up a building firm which has taken on a challenging new contract; travel to India to build a dam to hold back the strong river waters and protect a recently built village.  His company are dealing with very tight timelines, their ultimate deadline being that at some point the monsoon season will start and they can only guess when that will be.

When we  begin the novel, Clinton, his colleagues and his new wife Helen are settling into a new and unfamiliar country.  As the work moves forward, timelines get tighter and the work gets more dangerous, relationships start to strain most notably Clinton and Helen’s who opinions on the way the local villagers – who have been forcefully uprooted by this construction – have been treated differ greatly. With little to do during the day Helen starts spending more time with the villagers and local workers, taking an interest in their lives whereas Clinton becomes more and more obsessed with making sure that nothing gets in the way of the completion of the construction work.

A strong theme through is the contempt and lack of respect the British have for the Indian workers, referring to them as a mass collective of replaceable labour, off hand comments about India being a ‘strange place’. Disregarding their advice and opinions regardless of their level of experience in the construction industry or even their knowledge of the weather in the country they live in.

The book is well written and I think while you could tell this wasn’t a modern book from the writing this is far from being out of date. There are some really beautiful passages throughout, particularly related to Helen’s struggles with living in an unfamiliar place and realising she’s a very different person to her new husband; she was by far my favourite character just because there was a depth to her that I wasn’t expecting when the ‘young, new wife of the guy in charge’ was introduced.

Overall I’m glad I picked this up, its completely out of my comfort zone and I enjoyed reading something quite different. I was also impressed by how much I didn’t feel like I was reading a book that’s now over 50 years old with some of the themes still very much relevant today. I’d recommend this particularly as something that would make a great gift (*cough* Christmas *cough*) – largely overlooked on its first publication it’s unlikely someone will have already read this.

This review the last stop of a Random Things Blog Tour so if this post has piqued your interest be sure to go and check out everyone’s else thoughts Thank you to Anne and the publishers for providing me with my review copy.

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