Tuesday, February 18, 2014


 Cover of The Blue Family Tree by Frans Enberg
Back in 2004 when Frans Enberg’s rebellious debut novel To the Anthill was denied the Bressner Prize nomination owing to its ban in Sweden, four of the nine co-nominees withdrew their entries in protest. “Muting one of the most potent voices in recent years” is how novelist Salma Mahmoudieh described the award panel’s decision, before starting a global movement to raise the ban that according to her was merely an act of “shooting the messenger”. In the middle of the ire and fire of controversy while To the Anthill was already on its way to becoming a cult even in Sweden, Enberg’s second book Spinning, a dissection of the Geijer scandal, was published to universal acclaim. There was no stopping the praises that this young writer was bombarded with from across the globe ever since. But then who was to know that these two books were to remain the only works of fiction in the bibliography of this literary genius for a long time to come!

His new book The Blue Family Tree was 7 years in the making, which when you read it, you’d know why. It took another two years before the English translation hit the market. So it’s almost a decade later that you actually get to know first-hand the much awaited successor of the multiple award winning novella Spinning. The new book has nothing in common with his two previous novels, not tone, not time, and certainly not the vision.

The Blue Family Tree is an ambitious work based on the royal bloodline of the Urmakt Empire spanning from Kaushroff to Harl. But before the idea of a history book dampens your spirits, it’s important to know that Enberg’s work isn’t a rerun of all those known facts about the various political moves made by the show runners of this dynasty, but the three dimensional nuances of the lives and chores of a family that ran office to a kingdom for nearly three centuries. His Gequell and Cev Barus are not rulers who merely waged wars against the Romans and the Persians time and again, but are men with trust issues and flatulence, and vulnerable to the many hard and familiar aspects of reality you never associated with their types. Here, Enberg creates a cold-blooded world swarming with fortunetellers, gossip mongers and liars, their imagination occasionally skewing even the actual course of history as you knew up until now. The narrative doesn’t follow the chain of inheritance in chronological order, but goes in and out of an alternative realm created by perceptions, dreams and ideas of the principal characters with its own internal rules, truths and logic. The book primarily dwells in the Cev Barus Period from where everything else is reached for as declining memories or frightful prophesies. Here Battle of Feltau is just a bad dream Queen Armada wakes from, to discover the mutilated torso of her son dangling above her bed dripping blood, and the construction of the Mausoleum of Vaidark is supervised by the elves and friendly ancestral ghosts that talk! The famous platonic love between Emperor Gequell and the illustrious court poet Shimo gives birth to an invisible bastard son who stirs up the Buzlao rebellion that leads to the overthrow of the Gequell reign! Figures not very prominent in history like the hunchbacked Markyi, the malevolent twin of Cev Barus, and the fabled courtesan Vannya Durff play key roles in the novel.

From everything you have read and heard of the book, when you start to fear getting caught up in the miasma of the cobwebby Urmakt family maze, the very first page itself assures you of the safe hands you are in. Here, the voice of the author belongs to a whole new literary curriculum. Unlike To the Anthill or Spinning, the language here is fashioned to adapt and transform through the course of the narration, which is only enhanced by Enberg’s trademark black humor that is omnipresent.

The Blue Family Tree is immensely researched, tightly written with strong and sinister psychological undertones and more often than not is hurtfully funny. Here, fantasy and reality are hard to tell apart as they are enmeshed into each other and told with an honest straight face. (The ghost of Mangatab, the eunuch emperor, second in line and son of Kaushroff the great, is a recurring presence through the entire length of this phantasmagoria as one of the four primary narrators.) With lavish number of trivia and unheard of details about the Urmachts and their unsettling obsession with the pagan traditions strewn all across its 693 pages, it’s difficult to distinguish fact form Enberg’s fiction. It’s not made clear whether Queen Armada’s cataclysmic eating disorder or the customary pre-war masturbation of Grand duke Barkao that’s a fabrication. One will have to wait for the historians to get back on these matters. But Enberg, as two of his previous novels as well as his constant stint with controversy suggest, doesn’t seem like someone who takes much notice of what is expected of him by the rest of us.

The Blue Family Tree is a masterful work beyond doubt and it’s not very difficult to agree with Ralph Sullivan who declared it “one of the top five novels of the century”. The genius of The Blue Family Tree lies in the fact that it never puts your thinking to rest, and you have to pay attention in order to keep up speed. Your are involuntarily made a part of the secrets, the ploys, the mistakes and the failures of the Urmakts that at the end of each day’s reading you lie sweating and panting at another glimpse of the murky underbelly of life you never knew existed. It’s also wise, expansive and often intimidating, and after you flip past the last page of The Blue Family Tree, you’ll certainly feel a few years older. It's like a life lived. A must read for the grown ups! Pick your copy tomorrow...truly a keeper... and start right away!
This book review is a work of fiction. "The Blue Family Tree" does not exist, nor does Frans Enberg, or Urmakt Empire. All details regarding the author and the content of the said book are products of the author's imagination.


  1. Had never heard of Frans Enberg but your wonderfully written review has stimulated me to read this one! Thanks :)

    1. This is a pretty interesting blog. I was trying to google to find a single clue about the book, the author, the plot, the incidents in the history etc etc...any pointers to understand the context. I was totally exasperated by the end of it...that postscript just saved some brain space!! :)
      Very convincing and well written.

  2. all of wat shweta said ... although i have to add ... I have not felt this cheated in a while ... and neither dis stimulated ... My husband is most certainly not gonna like me today ... grrrr !!!!

    PS - i would have killed u Jithesh if I hadn't read the post script immediately after and gone scouting on the internet in vain...


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