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Arzee the Dwarf [Hardcover]

Chandrahas Choudhury
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Dec 2009
Arzee thinks that the worst of his troubles are behind him, and that he can marry and settle down now. But not for the first time, Arzee has it all wrong! "Arzee the Dwarf" follows Arzee through day and night, slow time and fast time, agitation and reverie, beautifully setting off the inner world of Arzee's jagged ruminations against the beating and pulsing of the great city around him. The narration vividly brings to life not just the protagonist, but also a host of characters to whom Arzee turns in his hour of need. Can Arzee find a place for himself in 'the world of the fives and the sixes'? This bittersweet comedy, shuffling between hope and dread, between the yearnings of body and soul, is a book about the strange beauty of human dreaming.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 215 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins India (1 Dec 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 8172238304
  • ISBN-13: 978-8172238308
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 14.6 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,709,267 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Arzee the dwarf is perceptive, tender, gritty, and funny. In his intimate, nuanced portrait of Arzee, a man searching for the ingredients of a normal life-a job, love dignity-moving and insightful" Vikram Chandra --Vikram Chandra

"Arzee the dwarf is perceptive, tender, gritty, and funny. In his intimate, nuanced portrait of Arzee, a man searching for the ingredients of a normal life-a job, love dignity-moving and insightful" Vikram Chandra --Vikram Chandra

"Arzee the dwarf is perceptive, tender, gritty, and funny. In his intimate, nuanced portrait of Arzee, a man searching for the ingredients of a normal life-a job, love dignity-moving and insightful" Vikram Chandra --Vikram Chandra

About the Author

The author is a writer and literary critic based in Mumbai. His reviews appear regularly in the Observer. The Sunday Telegraph, the San francisco chronicle, and Mint.

Customer Reviews

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4.5 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The best laid plans... 29 Jan 2014
By FictionFan TOP 100 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Kindle Edition
Despite his lack of inches, Arzee is on the verge of achieving the two things he most wants out of life - to become the head projectionist of the Noor Cinema and to find a wife. But, as the poet tells us, the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley. And Arzee's dream is about to be shattered when the owner of the run-down cinema decides to close it. This is the story of two weeks in Arzee's life as he faces a future that has suddenly become dark and uncertain.

Light on plot, but long on characterisation, this is a deliciously bittersweet little comedy. Arzee has been happy in the Noor, nestled in the womb-like darkness of the projection room. He counts the images of the Bollywood starlets whose posters line the walls of the cinema as friends and is proud of being in charge of the machine that projects the magical beam of light onto the screen. He might now be relying on his mother to bargain for a wife for him but he has known the joy of true love - a love lost when his prospective father-in-law objected to the match. And he hopes to rediscover some of the sweetness of that love with his new wife, once she has been found. But when the cinema closes, he will lose not only his job but his hopes of marriage. It is time for Arzee to reassess his dreams and try to take control over his own destiny.
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By Eleanor TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition
In this debut novel, first published in 2009, the dwarf of the title is a projectionist in a crumbling cinema in Bombay. The opening pages describe how Arzee has decided to turn over a new leaf, to try selfishness and self-assertiveness for a change.

Arzee is a believable character, whose garrulousness and sometimes misplaced self-confidence make for humorous situations. I enjoyed the evocation of both the city and the faded cinema, still working its magic on the patrons. This is a short book, but occasionally I felt there were longueurs, as it didn't grip me in the way I had hoped. Nevertheless this is an enjoyable novel and I look forward to investigating what else Choudhary has written.

[I was given a free download of this book for review by the NYRB, who have published a new ebook edition.]
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Novel Set in Mumbai 9 April 2012
By Una - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The eponymous protagonist is a very short man who works in an old cinema in Mumbai ("Arzee the dwarf" is what others know him as, it's implied).

Yet I found myself sucked into Arzee's world. I wasn't quite sure whether I liked Arzee (he seemed much too sorry for himself, for one thing), but I found myself extremely interested in what happened to him. He isn't a hero, but he's human - self-absorbed and flawed and with hopes and dreams that he never quite lets go of even when he seems to be in despair.

At first, I was a little distracted by what I perceived to be the author's way of using four words where two will do. ("The Noor was Arzee's home in the world. His days were here, his work here, his past here, and his future here.") Yet as I read on, these somewhat poetic descriptions and pronouncements were what I probably liked best about the book. They lifted Arzee's story from the pathetic and the mundane into if not quite the sublime, at least the general - his fate seemed bound to that of other humans, including me the reader.

There were things I didn't quite like in the book - the character of Monique, for instance, seems like a myth, never fully brought to life. I suspect the author meant it that way, because that's how Arzee sees her. While the book is narrated in the third person, throughout we are looking at the world through Arzee's eyes.

I also think some of the resolution at the end was a bit too pat. But the author smartly abstains from overplaying his hand: he leaves Arzee - and the reader - looking at the light at the end of the tunnel without leading us there, so that we're not sure whether Arzee reaches the end of his trials or faces an incoming train.

One thing I loved about this book is the delicate balance between literary prose and colloquial conversation, between age-old dilemmas of life and love and the modern setting, including the use of technology. (Most of the characters have mobile phones, but they never interfere with the story, they only carry it forward.) Arzee speaks as you and I would - yet through his thoughts, the author sometimes indulges in eloquent prose that is a delight to read.

(Full disclosure: I know the author. But I don't think that affected my review, except for prompting me to read the book.)
5.0 out of 5 stars The best laid plans... 29 Jan 2014
By FictionFan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
Despite his lack of inches, Arzee is on the verge of achieving the two things he most wants out of life - to become the head projectionist of the Noor Cinema and to find a wife. But, as the poet tells us, the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley. And Arzee's dream is about to be shattered when the owner of the run-down cinema decides to close it. This is the story of two weeks in Arzee's life as he faces a future that has suddenly become dark and uncertain.

Light on plot, but long on characterisation, this is a deliciously bittersweet little comedy. Arzee has been happy in the Noor, nestled in the womb-like darkness of the projection room. He counts the images of the Bollywood starlets whose posters line the walls of the cinema as friends and is proud of being in charge of the machine that projects the magical beam of light onto the screen. He might now be relying on his mother to bargain for a wife for him but he has known the joy of true love - a love lost when his prospective father-in-law objected to the match. And he hopes to rediscover some of the sweetness of that love with his new wife, once she has been found. But when the cinema closes, he will lose not only his job but his hopes of marriage. It is time for Arzee to reassess his dreams and try to take control over his own destiny.

As we follow Arzee through the streets of Bombay (not Mumbai in this book), we meet a host of characters, each brought vividly to life; Arzee's mother, always favouring Arzee over his brother because of Arzee's dwarfism, a staunch and sometimes overbearing protector; Deepak, the not-very-hard hardman pursuing Arzee for a small gambling debt - the two of them locked in a cat-and-mouse game where it's not at all clear which is the mouse; Dashrath, the taxi driver who dispenses philosophy as he drives; and Monique, Arzee's beautiful and rather nebulous lost love.

The characterisation of Arzee himself is excellent. The narrative is third-person but always seen through Arzee's eyes. While we get to see the difficulties and mockery he's had to face as a result of his height, Choudhury neither makes Arzee an object of pity nor does he portray him as a hero. He's just a flawed man - bombastic, prone to self-pity and annoyingly talkative; but he's also a dreamer who, even at the darkest moments, clings to his dreams.

Choudhury's prose flows smoothly throughout, with some beautifully phrased imagery, while the dialogue between Arzee and the various other characters provides much of the humour. Bombay is vibrantly portrayed - the Bombay of ordinary people leading ordinary lives. Though there is depth and even some darkness in the story, the overall tone is light with almost the feeling of a fairytale to it. I found I became more and more enchanted with the book as I read and by the end was fully invested in Arzee's hopes and dreams. Something of an unexpected delight, this is one of those rare books that makes me smile each time I think of it.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, NYRB.
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