Book Review: Once Upon a Time in India: The Marvellous Adventures of Captain Corcoran by Alfred Assollant


The times are a-changing for superheroes. Weary, doubtful and even hated for their supernatural aptitude of putting the world’s needs before theirs, our 21st-century champions are in the middle of a mid-life crisis that is spurning countless books and Hollywood box-office hits. Now the rave is all about bringing them back into the Xanax realm of anguished souls they were supposed to look after.

And that is why Captain Corcoran and his 19th-century confidence in his ability to wow the crowds —especially the ladies—is exactly the kind of hero we want to read about.

Freshly imported from dusty French shelves by British translator Sam Miller, the 150-year-old adventures of the aforementioned gentleman and his “pet” tiger, the ferocious Louison, whose claws are deadlier than those of Chinese imperial concubines, are a needed read in this era of Freudian self-doubt and broken idols.

In a glorious opening chapter, Brittany-born Corcoran convinces a group of bearded French scientists to trust him with the mission of finding a precious manuscript—whose importance is such in the novel that it changes names multiples times. His archetypal quest takes him to 19th-century India, where a colorful line-up of characters awaits him, in a country where, interestingly enough, French author Alfred Assollant himself never set foot. Read more