Book Title: The Legend of Genghis Khan
Author: Sutapa Basu
Before I picked up Genghis Khan by Sutapa Basu all I knew about him was that he was an ancestor of Babur and a very cruel one at that. There have been several great conquerers who have set out to own the world. I find them intriguing. What drives them? Power? Money? What keeps them going in the face of extreme adversity? How do they motivate an entire army of people to believe in their cause, to follow them and their dream, to accomplish seemingly impossible tasks?
For those reasons I found The Legend of Genghis Khan fascinating – the man, the story, the story telling – all of it.
Born as Temujin to the leader of a Mongol tribe, Genghis Khan is prophesied to be a great man. A shaman interprets the signs at the time of his birth that signal the makings of a conqueror. That’s the thought that little Temujin grows up with. He accepts it and owns it till it becomes a belief firmly rooted in his mind and later, the biggest truth of his life. It is this thought – that he is destined to craft a vast Mongolian empire – that remains his guiding light during the darkest times of despair and through the toughest decisions of his life. He pursues it with awe-inspiring single mindedness.
No fictional tale could compete with Genghis Khan’s life. He goes from being a clan leader’s pampered son to a fatherless boy, to a leader himself, then a helpless captive in a hostile land until he finally realises his destiny. Khan’s life was a roller coaster.
The book begins with his men plundering a palace, destroying, burning, killing and taking prisoner. Among the prisoners is princess Enkhtuya. When she is brought before the Khan, something about her makes him pause.
Then on the story flits between the present and past with glimpses of the Khan’s childhood, even as he and his men plan and launch attack after attack conquering vast territories.
The introduction of Princess Enkhtuya was a brilliant thought. Her character added a whole new dimension to Genghis Khan. Basu manages to give us a glimpse of his gentler side, without taking away from the image of a ruthless conqueror. For some mysterious reason he has a soft spot for her, yet he remains focussed on his life’s mission and none of her entreaties can persuade him to show mercy to his enemies.
The story flows simply and well as we follow the Khan through dry desert areas with raging sandstorms to freezing ice lands. The writing is evocative and the characters consistent.
It is a storyteller’s delight as well as a challenge. The research must have been mind-boggling. What I loved most is the objectivity with which Basu approaches this story. It is easy, almost natural, to admire/love your protagonist and to go on to justify him/his actions. Sutapa Basu manages to not to do that. She tells the tale like a seasoned chronicler remaining true to the tale and nothing else. She writes without attempting to glorify Genghis Khan – without apologies, without explanations – a little like the man himself. She lets his faults and his achievements speak for themselves.
The Legend of Genghis Khan skilfully treads the line between history and fiction. Read this one for some great story telling.
Last thought: If you’re not a non-fiction reader but are a bit of a history buff this book is for you.