BookBrowse Reviews The Elephanta Suite by Paul Theroux

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Elephanta Suite

Three Novellas

by Paul Theroux

The Elephanta Suite by Paul Theroux
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2007, 274 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2008, 288 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Vikram Johri

Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


The Elephanta Suite offers us a fresh notion of what India is, and what it can do to those who try to lose, or find, themselves there

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 problem of presenting a country that has traditionally been represented by snake charmers and nebulous rituals has forced many foreign writers to renegotiate India in their fiction. Paul Theroux manages this with some success in his latest collection of three inter-related short stories.

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 clich├ęd, 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.

The real theme of Theroux's work is the conflict between the stylish American and the earthy grimness of the experience called India. Like the Boston marketing executive in The Gateway of India or the Blundens in Monkey Hill, the innocuous foreigner in Theroux's tales is forced by the pull of the country to become someone else, a risk-taking dissolute creature of the moment. As one character who discovers the ineluctable truth about India puts it: if the country seemed puritanical, "it was because at the bottom of its puritanism was a repressed sensuality that was hungrier and nakeder and more voracious than anything he'd known." In India, one can lead a dissipated existence and at the same time, be grateful for an essentially humane space. Surrender is a repetitive stance with Theroux's characters; the tide of India churns them so violently that they willingly accept sweet death.

The most terrifying story of the collection is Alice's who comes to India to attend the Sathya Sai Baba ashram in Bangalore (see sidebar), but undergoes a transformative tragedy. What everyone in this collection comes to learn in the end is that India is not transitional, but permanent. It's not an idea, but an entity. Its scars and its beauty are brutal gifts to be partaken by the western traveler. It challenges all notions of the other that the selfsame traveler may have had. "This was what travel meant, another way of living your life and being free," says Alice early on in The Elephant God. Never mind that that freedom comes at a price.

Reviewed by Vikram Johri

This review was originally published in November 2007, and has been updated for the September 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.



This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

One-Month Free Membership

Discover your next great read here

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Castle of Water
    Castle of Water
    by Dane Huckelbridge
    When a whopping 24 out of 27 readers give a book 4 or 5 stars, you know you have a winner on your ...
  • Book Jacket: Havana
    Havana
    by Mark Kurlansky
    History with flavor...culture with spice...language with gusto...it would be hard to find a better ...
  • Book Jacket: Temporary People
    Temporary People
    by Deepak Unnikrishnan
    In this powerful and innovative collection of 28 short stories, Deepak Unnikrishnan presents a ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Nest
by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

A funny and acutely perceptive debut about four siblings and the fate of their shared inheritance.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    No One Is Coming to Save Us
    by Stephanie Powell Watts

    One of Entertainment Weekly, Nylon and Elle's most anticipated books of 2017.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Stars Are Fire
    by Anita Shreve

    An exquisitely suspenseful novel about an extraordinary young woman tested by a catastrophic event.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

Harvard is the storehouse of knowledge because the freshmen bring so much in and the graduates take so little out.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

Y S M B, I'll S Y

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
Modal popup -