Book review: Run and Hide by Pankaj Mishra

run and hide pankaj mishraIn Run and Hide, Arun Dwivedi tells the story of his life and how it intertwines with three other men he first meets when they are all students at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Delhi.

It is framed as an account written to a young female author and influencer, Alia, who is researching a global financial scandal in which two of the four are implicated.

Arun’s parents have sacrificed much to give him this elite education. His impoverished childhood and his pressure to succeed are vividly evoked, as is the atmosphere of the small railway town where he grows up. Mishra captures the deadening daily humiliations and rare moments of beauty. The subtle depiction of Arun’s family and their strange, silent cohabitation is haunting.

He portrays a brutal hazing at IIT, and the different responses of Arun and the students from similarly deprived backgrounds as they begin to map out their futures, negotiating the shifting dynamics of friendship, jealousy and shame.

But in their lives after IIT, the sweep of the book is much broader and the writing less involving. Two take up careers in finance in the United States, while another becomes a prominent figure on the Delhi literary scene, and soon is embellishing his reputation worldwide. Arun is on the fringes of the literary scene, living a quiet, low-key life in comparison. His knowledge of the others is limited, he gives us an outsider’s perspective.

The narrative frame means Arun is recalling, and editing, his thoughts on events that are either at a physical or a temporal distance. He is playing to Alia’s expectations. He is, at points, lecturing. (He is also, for our benefit, telling her things she already knows.)

Run and Hide has some powerful and moving writing. Much of the novel, though reads like a series of broadsheet columns, a disquisition on the changing politics and culture of India, and the Indian diaspora worldwide, with a few pop-culture references thrown in.

I kept thinking of how it might have been with a different narrative structure, if we were inside the heads, or walking alongside, the other characters. As it is, for me it didn’t fully come to life.

I received a copy of Run and Hide from the publisher via Netgalley.
View Run and Hide on Goodreads

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