This startling, far-reaching book captures the tumult, ambition, hardship, and serenity that mark todays India. Therouxs Westerners risk venturing far beyond the subcontinents well-worn paths to discover woe or truth or peace. A middle-aged couple on vacation veers heedlessly from idyll to chaos. A buttoned-up Boston lawyer finds succor in Mumbais reeking slums. And a young woman befriends an elephant in Bangalore.
We also meet Indian characters as singular as they are reflective of the countrys subtle ironies: an executive who yearns to become a holy beggar, an earnest young striver whose personality is rewired by acquiring an American accent, a miracle-working guru, and others.
As ever, Therouxs portraits of people and places explode stereotypes to exhilarating effect. The Elephanta Suite urges us toward a fresh, compelling, and often inspiring notion of what India is, and what it can do to those who try to lose--or find--themselves there.
They were round-shouldered and droopy-headed like mourners, the shadowy
child-sized creatures, squatting by the side of the sloping road. All facing the
same way, too, as though silently venerating the muted dirty sunset beyond
the holy city. Motionless at the edge of the ravine, they were miles from the
city and the wide flat river that snaked into the glow, the sun going gray,
smoldering in a towering heap of dust like a cloudbank. The lamps below had
already come on, and in the darkness the far-off city lay like a velvety textile
humped in places and picked out in squirts of gold. What were they looking
at? The light dimmed, went colder, and the creatures stirred.
Theyre almost human, Audie Blunden said, and looked closer and saw their matted fur.
With a bark like a bad cough, the biggest monkey raised his curled tail, lowered his arms, and thrust forward on his knuckles. The others, skittering on smaller limbs, followed ...
Paul Theroux understands India intimately, as is clear from his various books based on the country, such as By Rail Across the Indian Subcontinent (1984); however, he does tend to present a rather well-worn image of the world's largest democracy which, today, is on the cusp of a major economic revolution ... The stock dialogues and the pious homilies are all here. As a character in one story surmises a tragic death from another story, "He has left the body," in a typical, if somewhat clichéd, take on how Indians address death, but Theroux also pays lip service to the new India, the gleaming interiors of Bangalore call centers and the ritzy Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai, whose Elephanta Suite is a recurring theme in the stories--a witness to acquisitions and losses.
(Reviewed by Vikram Johri).
Full Review (849 words).
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