“The Fallen Angels of Karnataka” by Hans M. Hirschi tells the story of Haakon, a Norwegian man yearning to travel. His efforts to do so lead to the discovery of his homosexuality, meeting his first love, his HIV infection, and the death of that first love by AIDS. Still in mourning, a wealthy British man offers to hire Haakon as his secretary on an all-expenses paid trip around the world – a dream come true. But, as Haakon learns, there is more to this trip than his employer is letting on.
Haakon’s wonder to see the world is evident throughout the book, laced with descriptions of his visits to locations like London, Paris, and Cairo, among other international cities. Rich detail is provided for some of the most historic and romantic sites Haakon goes to, and a rotating cast of minor characters provide a more in-depth look at each locale. It’s a unique read for someone interested in travel-themed books.
One of my major concerns with the story is that the action moving it forward relies on Haakon’s naiveté, which becomes hard to believe after a point. As the book spans over 20 years of his life, the lead character almost refuses to notice the signs of what’s going on around him, from his romantic encounters to the nuances of his trip. Readers may need to suspend their disbelief to avoid getting pulled out of the action.
Also, those expecting a sprawling look at Haakon’s travels across the world will be in for a surprise. His early travels leading up to his trip takes up far more of the book than I expected. Plus, the book jumps over the main portion of his expedition. This wouldn’t be much of a concern, if not for the fact that it is advertised as the main conflict of the story. It also makes it hard to focus on the early build-up, when we know what’s coming.
Readers are advised that the core content of the book contains references and depictions of child trafficking, slavery, and sexual abuse. Towards the end of the book, these issues are addressed in full on a more local level, going into the various operations related to perpetrating and preventing these atrocious crimes. This is definitely not a book for younger readers, and while the warning does impart some spoilers about the book, it is necessary so that older readers can prepare themselves before deciding to pick it up.
In all, not a personal favorite, but a good read nonetheless. Haakon provides a sympathetic character to follow, and the darker parts of the story are handled delicately. If you feel you can handle the topic, give it a look.
By Christopher Boire