Book Review: The Skinning Tree

Title: The Skinning Tree
Author: Srikumar Sen
Publisher: Picador India- Pan Macmillan
Pages: 217
ISBN: 9789382616009
Source: Personal Copy

‘The Skinning Tree’ presents the harsh methods adopted by the masters, in boarding schools, to punish children & the consequent effects of these methods on children’s psychology.

About the Author

Born in Calcutta and following a degree at Oxford, Srikumar Sen started his career as a journalist at the Statesman in India. He later moved to England where he worked at The Guardian before moving to The Times, at which he worked as their Boxing Correspondent for thirty years. The Skinning Tree is his first novel. (Text taken from Book Depository) 

Source of Picture: Google

The Dream & the Reality

The narrative centers around a 7 year old boy, Sabby, living in an elite family of Calcutta. The novel is set in the time of World War II. Sabby aka Sabjee Sarkar lives in a dream world. His world is confined only to the boundaries of his city, Cal (Calcutta).

Sabby is shown as an innocent child who is not yet exposed to the cruelties of the real world. But his dream world shatters, when soldiers are seen all around Cal & he hears people talking about the attacks from Japanese. Bewildered by the odd events taking shape around him, Sabby is jolted when his family decides to send him to a boarding school, somewhere in Northern India.

On reaching the Boarding school, Sabby witnesses such things as he had never seen or heard about. The Brothers & the Sisters at that christian school are strict disciplinarians. Those who do not conform to rules & regulations are beaten mercilessly.

Gradually, Sabby starts adjusting in this alien world. As he mixes with the children, he starts taking part in a cruel activity. The children kill birds & small animals, mercilessly and peel off their skins. Then, they throw their skinned bodies on a cactus tree, which is called The Skinning Tree.

Is this activity the result of the brutal treatment given to children? Or is it just a teaser of something bigger that lies ahead?

My Verdict

The initial few pages can confuse readers. The novel begins with 1st person narrative and soon it changes to 3rd person narrative. In the last chapter, it again shifts to 1st person. It is only in the end, that we realize that the 1st person narratives actually serve the purpose of a Prologue & an Epilogue.
The writing style of the author is engrossing. The story line, too, holds our interest till the ending. In the beginning, the novel is slow paced. The author presents Sabby’s dream world in a detailed manner. There are just descriptive passages & few conversations. I found it quite boring & it is the only thing that I didn’t like in this book.

The plot moves like a train, gaining speed gradually. As we move towards the end, the narrative becomes quite intense just like some action sequence. And what lies ahead, that is the climax, is something that will make you literally shout at the characters.

What I liked very much about the book is the way the author has presented a child’s psychology. One can relate to Sabby at several points. The fearsome punishments & the fanciful flights of children both run parallel. But it is the former that ultimately wins by hampering the latter.

I enjoyed this book thoroughly. This book was sheer delight to read & I loved the climax. It was something that made me cry in my heart. It can prove to be a transforming book for some people.

My Rating: ***** (4.5/5)

Have you read this book or any other book on similar theme? What are your views about this book? Do share your thoughts. Thanks.

Available for purchase on


15 thoughts on “Book Review: The Skinning Tree

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