THE BLACK HOLE OF CALCUTTA by Noel Barber
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THE BLACK HOLE OF CALCUTTA

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The author has a marvelous story to tell. He calls it A Reconstruction. He uses only the mildest forms of fictionalization to tell it -- scene setting, facial expressions, gestures. He recreates the famous/infamous series of battles that preceded the siege of Calcutta in a day-by-day acount. The East India Company had been busy in the mid-18th century establishing a highly profitable commercial fief in Bengal. Its security rested on treaties with powerful Indian princes and a wretchedly complicated network of graft and intrigue, which the British adopted with more skill than you might imagine. The Company's local director was a weakling with no capacity for administration who had let his forts fall into disrepair. When the Nabob Siraj-Uddaula marched against Calcutta with fanatic soldiers, massed elephants and weapons from the French, the first engagements were fought off by a handful of English soldiers against thousands of Indians. Mr. Barber handles the details of the battles with exciting skill. He shows that the final defeat was due more to internal stupidity and cowardice than Indian military efficiency. The 145 men and one woman who survived the last battle were shoved into one small room by the Nabob's order. He hadn't known the size of the room and when they were released in the morning, 22 men and 1 woman emerged alive. Mr. Barber rejects the idea that this was used to rationalize British colonialism in India -- a moot point. Aside from that, the book makes terrific reading.

Pub Date: Jan. 11th, 1965
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin