Micro Review: “Four and Twenty Black Birds” by Godfrey Joseph Pereira

As India gained its ‌independence from the evil clutches of the British, Charlie Strongbow, a schizophrenic Englishman and mercenary born in Bombay, along with 23 colleagues, took possession of Cross Island near the Bombay docks in order to set up a black market between Southhampton and Bombay. It is this intriguing story that former journalist-turned-author Godfrey Joseph Pereira writes about in his latest book, “Four and Twenty Blackbirds: The Insane Life of an English Smuggler in Bombay.”

“As fledgling India floundered and struggled, Charlie, along with an English moron called Thommo, a devious accountant named Willie, a vicious Portuguese temptress, Dona Maria, and 20 British desperadoes, took possession of Cross Island near the docks of Bombay. Here they operated in illegal harmony, bound by no rule or principle, and set about building a black market between Southampton and Bombay,” reads the blurb for the book.

Cross Island, locally known as “Chinal Tekdi” – which literally translated from Hindi means hill of whores – is an uninhabited or sparsely inhabited island located in the port of Mumbai between the coast at Dockyard Road and the Elephanta Island, about 400 meters from Ferry Quay on the east coast of Mumbai. The island is home to an oil refinery and several large gas reservoirs and features the ruins of a fort. The fort occupies almost the entire island and may have been built by Portuguese or British settlers.

Released in 2021 by Speaking Tiger Books, “Four and Twenty Blackbirds” sets general standards for gender-based categorization. Although it appears to be historical fiction, Pereira says in the “author’s note” that it is based on a packet of letters given to him by Strongbow’s grandson at a New York bar in 2015. .

Additionally, although Pereira is an Indian writer writing about India at the time of independence, the protagonists are all British while Indians have supporting roles in the story. Moreover, “rogue” colonialists are treated with empathy by Pereira, quite unlike his treatment of Indian politicians and officials.

Along with Strongbow’s story, the novel is also a history of India’s independence movement, in which Pereira critically considers Jawaharlal Nehru, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and other political leaders of the time. His view that the version of history presented to us is “washed” is clearly illustrated in his analyzes of Nehru and Jinnah.

Finally, Pereira’s “Four and Twenty Blackbirds” is the story of Strongbow’s descent into madness. He suffers from schizophrenia, which is possibly brought on by the trauma of having abandoned two daughters in Indian orphanages, never to be seen again. However, they wrote letters, none of which reached Strongbow.

“Based on real events, ‘Four and Twenty Blackbirds’ is an utterly gripping novel – the disturbing and astonishing story of an Englishman who has won it all but lost his soul on no man’s land in the sea of Oman”, concludes the text of the presentation of the book.

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