In The Jungles Of The Night
Anirudh Nair reviews In the Jungles of the Night by Stephen Alter.
By Stephen Alter
Published by Aleph
Hardcover, 193 pages, Price: Rs. 499
Very often, the effects of spending a lot of time outdoors and experiencing nature first-hand as a child carries on to an individual’s adult life. Reading Stephen Alter’s novel about Jim Corbett In the Jungles of the Night reminds the reader of this essential, timeless truth.
The novel transports the reader first to Nainital, then to the foothills of Kumaon and finally to Kenya by tracing incidents from different stages of the legendary hunter-conservationist and naturalist’s life. In the first chapter ‘The Fern Collector’, Corbett is a young boy of 14 trying to solve a mystery that has resurfaced in the hill station where he grew up. Alter introduces us to Corbett’s family, and the events that lead to the boy’s search for answers. The chapter gives a sense of who Corbett would grow up to be and the traits that would later play a defining role in his life.
It is the second chapter ‘The Man-eater of Mayaghat’ though that provides an insight into the real Jim Corbett. When the hunter receives a telegram from the Commissioner of Nainital informing him that the man-eater has claimed its fifth victim and his presence was required immediately, Corbett knew what he had to do. But little did he know that the expedition would leave a scar on his psyche for years to follow.
As Corbett tracks the man-eater, readers are introduced to a motley crew of side characters, each having a stake in the fate of the tiger and its forests, which were being felled to satiate the appetite of the Indian Railways. It is his interactions with these characters that unravel layers of Corbett’s complex personality.
Nostalgia for a land that he has left behind is evident in Corbett’s voice in the third and final chapter of the book ‘Until the Day Break’. Readers also learn why Corbett gave up the gun in favour of the camera in the latter years of his life.
Stephen Alter uses the lens of fiction effectively in the novel to portray the human behind the hunter. I am certain In the Jungles of the Night will delight and surprise Corbett’s many fans, and attract new readers, like myself, who are yet to experience his books.
Reviewed by Anirudh Nair
First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXVII No. 4, April 2017.