MLA Platinum Award Press Release

Summary and book reviews of Nine Lives by William Dalrymple

Nine Lives

In Search of the Sacred in Modern India

by William Dalrymple

Nine Lives by William Dalrymple X
Nine Lives by William Dalrymple
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jun 2010, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2011, 304 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Jo Perry
Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

A mesmerizing book that illuminates the remarkable ways in which traditional forms of religious life in India have been transformed in the vortex of the region’s rapid change.

William Dalrymple is the author of six previous acclaimed works of history and travel, including City of Djinns, which won the Young British Writer of the Year Prize and the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award; the best-selling From the Holy Mountain; White Mughals, which won Britain’s most prestigious history prize, the Wolfson; and The Last Mughal, which won the Duff Cooper Prize for History and Biography. He divides his time between New Delhi and London, and is a contributor to The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, and The Guardian.

From the author of The Last Mughal ("A compulsively readable masterpiece" —The New York Review of Books), an exquisite, mesmerizing book that illuminates the remarkable ways in which traditional forms of religious life in India have been transformed in the vortex of the region’s rapid change—a book that distills the author’s twenty-five years of travel in India, taking us deep into ways of life that we might otherwise never have known exist.

A Buddhist monk takes up arms to resist the Chinese invasion of Tibet—and spends the rest of his life atoning for the violence by hand printing the finest prayer flags in India ... A Jain nun tests her powers of detachment as she watches her closest friend ritually starve herself to death ... A woman leaves her middle-class life in Calcutta and finds unexpected fulfillment living as a Tantric in an isolated, skull-filled cremation ground ... A prison warder from Kerala is worshipped as an incarnate deity for three months of every year ... An idol carver, the twenty-third in a long line of sculptors, must reconcile himself to his son’s desire to study computer engineering ... An illiterate goatherd from Rajasthan keeps alive in his memory an ancient four-thousand-stanza sacred epic ... A temple prostitute, who initially resisted her own initiation into sex work, pushes both her daughters into a trade she nonetheless regards as a sacred calling.

William Dalrymple chronicles these lives with expansive insight and a spellbinding evocation of circumstance. And while the stories reveal the vigorous resilience of individuals in the face of the relentless onslaught of modernity, they reveal as well the continuity of ancient traditions that endure to this day. A dazzling travelogue of both place and spirit.

1

The Nun's Tale

Two hills of blackly gleaming granite, smooth as glass, rise from a thickly wooded landscape of banana plantations and jagged palmyra palms. It is dawn. Below lies the ancient pilgrimage town of Sravanabelagola, where the crumbling walls of monasteries, temples and dharamsalas cluster around a grid of dusty, red earth roads. The roads converge on a great rectangular tank. The tank is dotted with the spreading leaves and still-closed buds of floating lotus flowers. Already, despite the early hour, the first pilgrims are gathering.

For more than 2,000 years, this Karnatakan town has been sacred to the Jains. It was here, in the third century bc, that the first Emperor of India, Chandragupta Maurya, embraced the Jain religion and died through a self-imposed fast to the death, the emperor's chosen atonement for the killings for which he had been responsible in his life of conquest. Twelve hundred years later, in ad 981, a ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • 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 $12 for a year or $39 for 3 months
  • More about membership!

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Nine Lives is a stunning, affecting study of human aspiration and goodness. But despite the jacket blurbs, this isn't really "travel writing." As Dalrymple moves through India's "sacred topography," he assembles the biographies of nine people whose lives intersect with the divine. Although contemporary India is always present (a shaman listens to a soccer game on a transistor radio from his hut on a bone-strewn cremation plot), Nine Lives immerses the reader in an India of "sacred time" where the contemporary meets the times, gods are present in nature - and art, song, wandering, military service - even prostitution - express spiritual striving, devotion, humility, love and hope...continued

Full Review (658 words).

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.

(Reviewed by Jo Perry).

Media Reviews

Pico Iyer, Time
A singular achievement ... Dalrymple brings a powerful restraint and clarity to precisely the two subjects—India and faith—that cause most observers to fly off into cosmic vagueness or spleen. The result is a deeply respectful and sympathetic portrait of those modest souls seldom mentioned in the headlines.

The Guardian
William Dalrymple's triumphant return to travel writing not only illuminates India’s relationship with religion but casts the genre itself in a new light ... A wise and rewarding book fizzing with Dalrymple's signature erudition and lightness of touch ... The travel book of the year.

Wendy Doniger, The Times Literary Supplement
Dalrymple vividly evokes the lives of these men and women, with the sharp eye and good writing that we have come to expect of his extraordinary books ... Nine Lives is a glorious mixture of journalism, anthropology, history, and history of religions, written in prose worthy of a good novel ... Not since Kipling has anyone evoked village India so movingly ... The book gives an answer to Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and those who would condemn all religions for the sake of the fanatical fringe.

The Observer
This is travel writing at its best ... It is also a series of biographies which unpick the rich religious heritage of the subcontinent ... This book makes its political points more powerfully than any newspaper article.

The Sunday Times
Beautifully written, ridiculously erudite and, more than any of his previous work, reveals Dalrymple to be remarkably warm- and open-hearted ... He [is] a towering talent.

The Scotsman
The outstanding read of the year ... Entirely absorbing and beautifully lucid . . . The sub-continent rises, bemusing, bedazzling, a sensory tapestry crafted brilliantly.

Kirkus Reviews
Dalrymple showcases his knowledge of the breadth of India and his fearless willingness to penetrate its sometimes unsavory nooks and crannies, rendering this a truly heartfelt work for readers craving a deeper connection to India and its rich spiritual heritage. A remarkable feat of journalism.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. [An] ambitious and affectionate book that respects popular religion.

Library Journal
Starred Review. More accessible but less scholarly than Wendy Doniger's The Hindus, Dalrymple's book is highly recommended for all collections.

Pankaj Mishra, The National (Abu Dhabi)
Gripping, and often very moving .... Characters rarely allowed into contemporary Anglophone writing about India are given an opportunity to describe their deepest aspirations without the slightest hint of authorial condescension.

Indian Express
Heart-wrenching ... Each of the nine stories speaks of the resilience of the human spirit when fighting against impossible odds .... Dalrymple [is] among the most perceptive and humane of travel writers.

Author Blurb Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love
Nine Lives is an absolutely beautiful book: honest, edifying, and moving. I love so much about it, but mostly I love how William Dalrymple has gotten out of the way of the story, letting the characters inhabit in their own voices every square inch of each page. It’s a delight.

Author Blurb Deepak Chopra
In this exquisite book of extraordinary lives, we see that the sacred survives in India amidst all its contradictions and modernity. William Dalrymple dazzles us with stories of how a deeper reality stokes the fire of life in the recesses of our souls. These are stories of real people in postmodern India. By peering into the secret passages of their psyches, we learn more about our own self, our fantasies, our shadows, our longings, our hidden potential.

Reader Reviews

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • 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 $12 for a year or $39 for 3 months
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

More books by William Dalrymple

If you liked Nine Lives, try these:

  • Empire of Sin jacket

    Empire of Sin

    by Gary Krist

    Published 2015

    About this book

    From bestselling author Gary Krist, a vibrant and immersive account of New Orleans' other civil war, at a time when commercialized vice, jazz culture, and endemic crime defined the battlegrounds of the Crescent City

  • Miss New India jacket

    Miss New India

    by Bharati Mukherjee

    Published 2012

    About this book

    More books by this author

    Born into a traditional lower-middle-class family, Anjali sets off to Bangalore where she falls in with an audacious and ambitious crowd of young people. However, the seductive pull of modernity does not come without a dark side . . .

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member
Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • 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 $12 for a year or $39 for 3 months
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Join Now!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Master Class
    Master Class
    by Christina Dalcher
    Christina Dalcher's Master Class shows America sleepwalking into a perfectionist eventuality not ...
  • Book Jacket: How to Pronounce Knife
    How to Pronounce Knife
    by Souvankham Thammavongsa
    Many examples of immigrant fiction dedicate a portion of their storytelling to exploring details of ...
  • Book Jacket: The Easy Part of Impossible
    The Easy Part of Impossible
    by Sarah Tomp
    Teenager Ria Williams is a skilled diver. She is on track to compete at the Olympic level, but ...
  • Book Jacket: Fire in Paradise
    Fire in Paradise
    by Alastair Gee , Dani Anguiano
    On November 8, 2018, a fire started in Northern California's Butte County after 50-70 mph winds ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Daughter of the Reich
    by Louise Fein

    A spellbinding story of impossible love set against the backdrop of the Nazi regime.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Prisoner's Wife
    by Maggie Brookes

    Inspired by the true story of a courageous young woman who enters a Nazi POW camp to be with the man she loves.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
The Paris Hours
by Alex George

One day in the City of Light. One night in search of lost time.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win The House on Fripp Island

The House on Fripp Island
by Rebecca Kauffman

A taut, page-turning novel of secrets and strife.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

B I T T Water

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 the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.