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Romantics, the


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About the Author

Pankaj Mishra was born in 1969. He is a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books, the New Statesman, and The Times Literary Supplement, as well as several Indian publications. He is currently editing an anthology of Indian writing. He divides his time between New Delhi and Simla.


Mishra's passionate, ambitious but not entirely successful debut follows the sentimental education of its ingenuous, sensitive Indian narrator. Twenty years old and indigent, Samar has already spent three years at the University of Allahabad when he arrives in Benares in the harsh winter of 1989, hoping to learn the ways of the Western world. In a cold room he rents from an opium-dazed musician, Samar devotes his time to reading Schopenhauer and Turgenev--the sort of big books "that make idleness attractive," each filled with the promise of "wisdom and knowledge." When a middle-aged Englishwoman, Diana West, decides to create a social life for him, Samar is thrust into a circle of American and European expatriates. Through Miss West, the young Brahmin meets and falls in love with the ravishing Catherine, in flight from her "oppressively bourgeois" French parents and involved with a hopeless sitar player named Anand. The impassioned opinions of Miss West and the foreigners alert Samar to his own (perceived) inadequacies. But Samar gradually realizes that the Westerners seek an India that does not really exist, an "Edenic setting of self-sufficient villages," "consciously ethnic knickknacks" and Ayurvedic medicine. In stark contrast to the yearning, decadent drifters is the secretive Rajesh, a campus agitator whose Brahmin admirers overlook his intellectual flaws. Samar's later travels with Catherine awaken romantic feelings previously suppressed by his own traditions, and he feels keenly the struggle between his ancestral obligations (he visits his sick father in Pondicherry) and his new emotional life. As his hopes for a relationship with Catherine diminish, he gets a chance to teach English to children in Dharamsala, where he attempts to embrace his solitude. In a denouement that strains credulity, chance encounters with the foreigners from Benares persistently destroy Samar's peace of mind. Mishra seems not to trust his reader to recognize significant events; his frequent reminders slow the book's pace considerably. Nevertheless, his descriptions of the Indian landscape are sensuous; one can smell the cumin and coriander seeds, feel the hum of large crowds in the streets. Samar's bildungsroman is a promising first novel from a writer to watch. (Feb.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

"Grip[s] the reader as artfully and as compellingly as the first page of A Passage to India."-The New York Review of Books

Samar is a young student who has relocated to Benares, a holy pilgrimage site for Hindus. Samar's move there is an intellectual and emotional pilgrimage that will allow him to explore who he is and who he can become. Two relationships shade his explorations of self: one with the enigmatic Rajesh, a student activist with gangster overtones, and the other with Catherine, a beautiful French student who will introduce him to both romantic love and regret. Samar's evolution is ponderous, and he spends much time in introspection. He drifts between so many worlds, particularly those of East and West and head and heart. Mishra's writing style is fluid, and he effectively captures the physical and emotional environment in which his characters live. Recommended where there is interest in new literature that is written from a different perspective.--Caroline M. Hallsworth, Sudbury P.L., ON Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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