TRADE WINDS TO MELUHHA is a picaresque novel, involving the adventures of a boy called Samasin in ancient Babylon (called Babili in the novel.) There were many good things about this novel, and a couple of problems. I will mention the good things first.


First of all, I loved the concept of a tale about ancient Babylon told from a non-Western point of view, from someone in India who would be able to give this story a very special angle, that of the relationship between the people of Babylon and their trading partners in north-west India.


Secondly, the author Vasant Dave, possesses a very good vocabulary, which is impressive because I gather that English is one of several languages that he speaks.


Thirdly, the author has chosen well for his protagonist. The boy Samasin is by turns, hard-done-by, resourceful, charming and puzzled by the turns of events that is disrupting his quiet life as a stable boy. This novel has many plot twists and turns, which include unsolved murders, hidden treasure, boat voyages, and many colorful characters. Once it gets going, it is quite a ride.


Once it gets going. But the novel doesn’t start as well as it might. The author takes a tremendous risk by leaving Samasin at the end of Chapter 1 with a dead stranger in his lap, and switching to a completely new cast of characters in Chapter 2. In Chapter 3, we meet Samasin again, but the point of view is no longer Samasin’s own. And in Chapter 4, the story is told from the point of view of yet another character.


As a reader, I wanted to get to know Samasin, but the author kept preventing me from doing so. This switching of viewpoint so early in the novel risks losing the reader, which would be a pity. It seems to me that the novel would flow better if it was told just from Samasin’s point of view. Three and a half stars.


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