Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The Elephanta Suite

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The Elephanta Suite

Three Novellas

by Paul Theroux

The Elephanta Suite by Paul Theroux X
The Elephanta Suite by Paul Theroux
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2007, 274 pages

    Sep 2008, 288 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Vikram Johri
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Beyond the Book

This article relates to The Elephanta Suite

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  • The first novella in this collection, "Monkey Hill", has a definitive resonance with Theroux's own life. During his time in Uganda, where he was a visiting scholar at the Makerere University in Kampala, a violent mob attacked the car his pregnant wife was traveling in. The incident was enough to put Theroux off Africa; he and his family left the continent, where he had spent much of the 1960s, for Singapore shortly after his son was born. He barely returned until the early 2000s, when he traveled overland from Cairo to Cape Town - a journey recorded in Dark Star Safari (2002).

  • Theroux has had a love-hate relationship with Nobel laureate V S Naipaul, who he first met in Africa while teaching at the Makerere University. Theroux began his writing career under Sir Vidia's tutelage in Kampala, a time when he worked extra hard to make his mark amidst difficult living conditions. The friendship touched its zenith with the publication of the little-known V.S. Naipaul, an Introduction to His Work, in which Theroux lavished Naipaul with considerable praise. However, with success came distance. After Theroux's The Great Railway Bazaar (chronicling Theroux's adventures by rail from London to Tokyo) became a commercial and critical hit, the association went into decline. Naipaul's behavior turned erratic after his wife died, and the relationship touched its nadir with the publication of Theroux's Sir Vidia's Shadow: A Friendship Across Five Continents in 1998, which is described by one reviewer as a mixture of autobiography, Boswellian chronicle, and poison-pen letter. More about Theroux.

  • There are three Sathya Sai Baba ashrams in India; the central one is in Puttaparthi in the state of Karnataka, the other two are close to Bangalore and at Kodai Kanal. Sathya Sai is believed to possess magical healing powers and be capable of magical feats such as levitation. He counts leading Indian lights, such as a former prime minister and a former president, among his devotees. However, no scientific analysis of his work has been done, and the Baba remains a controversial figure in India. The Sathya Sai Organziation claim there are 1,200 Sathya Sai Baba Centers in 130 countries with 50-100 million followers; independent estimates put the number closer to 6 million.

    India has many such godmen and godwomen who attract people from all over the world. Another such figure is Mata Amritanandamayi, the "hugging saint" who is claimed to have embraced 50,000 people in a day.

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Article by Vikram Johri

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Elephanta Suite. It originally ran in November 2007 and has been updated for the September 2008 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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