River of Ink


Author: Paul M. M. Cooper
Publisher: Bloomsbury
289 Pages

PAUL M.M. COOPER’S debut novel takes us on a journey to Sri Lanka, a tiny island nation south of India, steeped in history and culture. With more than 2,000 years of continuous written history and mentioned in several ancient Indian texts (most famous of which is the Ramayana), Sri Lanka’s glorious years of poetry, kings and fables are vividly captured in this brilliant debut novel by Cooper.

Borrowing from the epic Ramayana, the Shishupala Vadha or The Slaying Of Shishupala, a classical Sanskrit poetry composed in the 7th or 8th century, is showcased here as an instrument that precipitates a revolution after the tyrannical King Magha captures Sri Lanka in 1215. Cooper weaves a beautiful imagery of ancient Sri Lanka in her glory years and engulfs you with his story of passion, love, war and the indomitable human spirit that somehow rises no matter how much it has been beaten down.

Asanka the poet is summoned by the ruthless King Magha. He wants Asanka to translate an epic Sanskrit poem in a ruse to civilise his subjects and douse the fire of discontent that was ignited through the land ever since he toppled and murdered the previous king in cold blood.

“Poetry’s beautiful. It whiles away the hours. It tricks people, thrills them. It makes us forget our lives for a few minutes — but that’s all.”

Asanka couldn’t have been more wrong. Unbeknownst to even himself, his courage slowly shows itself amidst the cloud of his own cowardice. Soon, his translation would become the battle cry of the downtrodden and the oppressed as he embarks on his most dangerous task of all — obeying the King’s request while slipping in his own little twist in between the lines of the classic prose he had been tasked to translate.

In a world where writers, poets and artists are still being persecuted for their craft, the story of Asanka rings out like a timeless allegory of how great battles can be won not by the steel blade of the sword but by the tip of a humble pen.

What’s hot: Books of wars and history usually bore me. Cooper, however, has woven such a compelling story that moves and twists under your eyes, perceptibly capturing every subtle nuance of love, fear, hate and hope. Every character is well thought out and you’ll find yourself compelled to finish the book at one go — which I did.  Here’s another irrelevant fact : Cooper’s gorgeous.  Not that it has any bearings on my review. But it is what it is *Cough*

What’s not: The fact that I think Cooper is a conniving trickster who got me reading books I wouldn’t normally touch with a 10 foot pole. That’s saying a lot about his gift of storytelling.  Did I mention that he’s gorgeous?  Okay, never mind.

First published in the New Straits Times 13th June 2016

Author’s Biodata


Paul Cooper was born in South London and grew up in Cardiff, Wales. He was educated at the University of Warwick and the UEA, and after graduating he left for Sri Lanka to work as an English teacher, where he took time to explore the ruins both ancient and modern. He has written for magazines, websites and also worked as an archivist, editor and journalist.

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