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Nine Lives: Encounters with the Holy in Modern India [Hardcover]

William Dalrymple
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 Oct 2009
A Buddhist monk takes up arms to resist the Chinese invasion of Tibet - then spends the rest of his life trying to atone for the violence by hand printing the best prayer flags in India. A Jain nun tests her powers of detachment as she watches her best friend ritually starve to death. A woman leaves her middle-class family in Calcutta, and her job in a jute factory, only to find unexpected love and fulfilment living as a Tantric skull feeder in a remote cremation ground. A prison warden from Kerala becomes, for two months of the year, a temple dancer and is worshipped as a deity; then, at the end of February each year, he returns to prison. An illiterate goat herd from Rajasthan keeps alive an ancient 4,000-line sacred epic that he, virtually alone, still knows by heart. A devadasi - or temple prostitute - initially resists her own initiation into sex work, yet pushes both her daughters into a trade she now regards as a sacred calling. Nine people, nine lives. Each one taking a different religious path, each one an unforgettable story. Exquisite and mesmerising, and told with an almost biblical simplicity, William Dalrymple's first travel book in over a decade explores how traditional forms of religious life in South Asia have been transformed in the region's rapid change. A distillation of twenty-five years of exploring India and writing about its religious traditions, Nine Lives is a modern Indian Canterbury Tales.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 284 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury; 1st edition (5 Oct 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1408800616
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408800614
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 127,700 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

William Dalrymple was born in Scotland and brought up on the shores of the Firth of Forth. He wrote the highly acclaimed bestseller In Xanadu when he was twenty-two. City of Djinns won the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award and the Sunday Times Young British Writer of the Year Award. The Age of Kali won the French Prix D'Astrolabe and White Mughals won the Wolfson Prize for History 2003 and the Scottish Book of the Year Prize. The Last Mughal was longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize and won the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize. His most recent book, Nine Lives, was published in 2009 to huge acclaim. He lives with his wife and three children on a farm outside Dehli.

(Photo credit: Karoki Lewis)

Product Description

Review

`William Dalrymple's Nine Lives takes the charm and natural verve of City of Djinns, marries it to the intellectual and spiritual engagement of From the Holy Mountain, and brings it off with all the narrative skill developed in his history books, combined with his ever more profound understanding of India.'
--Maya Jasanoff

"Any of these stories could make a great film or play, they are so full of passion, tragedy, violence, compassion, and religious fervor, and so vividly evoked; . . . Their human concerns, not unlike ours, melt seamlessly into the bizarre, almost unimaginable circumstances of their ritual life, and eventually we see that that,too, is quite human, that there is nothing weird at all about drinking
warm blood or pulling out your hair by the roots. Only a brilliant writer like Dalrymple could bring off this astonishing and unprecedented revelation of the humanity of people on the farthest extremes of religious ecstasy" --Wendy Doniger

"I was enchanted by these poignant and magical stories. By artfully weaving together travel, history, and legend--all without guile--he creates a compelling narrative, reminding us why India is one of the world's greatest story telling cultures, and why he is one of its greatest story tellers" --Gurcharan das

"Any book by William Dalrymple is good news, but a travel book after close to a decade calls for a dash to the bookshop instead of a click on Amazon. Nine Lives, Dalrymple's first travel book after two exhilarating expeditions into Indian history, is a risky enterprise.
It is difficult for anyone, let alone "Westerners", to write about Indian religious traditions without slithering into Orientalist, New Ageist or Hindutva tropes. It is even more risky to narrate Indian religious beliefs against the template of today's India, which is itself a half-mythical being in the throes of constant change. But Dalrymple has managed to do so, and with aplomb." --Tabish Khair, Hindustan Times

'His most ambitious yet, taking the reader into lurid, scarcely imaginable worlds of mysticism ... Dalrymple has an inimitable way of conjuring the Indian landscape' -- Financial Times

`This is travel writing at its best. I hope it sparks a revival' -- Observer

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

`William Dalrymple's Nine Lives takes the charm and natural verve of City of Djinns, marries it to the intellectual and spiritual engagement of From the Holy Mountain, and brings it off with all the narrative skill developed in his history books, combined with his ever more profound understanding of India.' --Maya Jasanoff

'Full of passion, tragedy, violence, compassion, and religious fervor, and so vividly evoked...
Only a brilliant writer like Dalrymple could bring off this astonishing and unprecedented revelation of the humanity of people on the farthest extremes of religious ecstasy.' --Wendy Doniger

`I was enchanted by these poignant and magical stories. By artfully weaving together travel, history, and legend--all without guile--he creates a compelling narrative, reminding us why India is one of the world's greatest story telling cultures, and why he is one of its greatest story tellers.' --Gurcharan Das

`His characteristic wit and sympathy are fully evident in the interviews he has conducted ... as are his love and knowledge of the sub-continent ... this fascinating book ... beautifully illustrates the relationship between tradition and modernity in India.' --Lewis Jones, Spectator

`Beautifully written, ridiculously erudite and, more than any of his previous work, reveals Dalrymple to be remarkably warm - and open-hearted ... a towering talent.' --Brian Schofield, The Times

About the Author

William Dalrymple was born in Scotland and brought up on the shores of the Firth of Forth. He wrote the highly acclaimed bestseller In Xanadu when he was twenty-two. City of Djinns won the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award and the Sunday Times Young British Writer of the Year Award. The Age of Kali won the French Prix D'Astrolabe and White Mughals won the Wolfson Prize for History 2003 and the Scottish Book of the Year Prize. His most recent book, The Last Mughal, was longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize and won the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize. He lives with his wife and three children on a farm outside Dehli.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Magnificent Feat 4 Jan 2010
Format:Hardcover
William Dalrymple takes on the biggest subject of all: the human search for the divine. Elegant, sad, wise and moving it is the best and most nuanced book on South Asian spirituality to appear for many years: no wonder it has been top of the bestseller list here in India for weeks. Only someone who has spent many years in the subcontinent would have the depth of knowledge that this book displays and in many ways it is the culmination of Dalrymple's writing career. Even for those of us who grew in this country will find much that is strange and new. A wonderful achievement.
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55 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful and Insightful 29 Sep 2009
Format:Hardcover
Elegant and occasionally elegiac William Dalrymple has written a beautiful and insightful book on the hidden India, a country at once capitalist and modern but also still spiritual and unique. The people who Dalrymple interview are representative of a traditional and devout way of life - but yet their individualism shines through. I was touched, amused and sometimes bewildered by their stories and religious devotion. Nine Lives is Dalrymple's best book since From The Holy Mountain.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A special journey... 9 Nov 2009
Format:Hardcover
What a beautiful book....
Dalrymple has outshone himself from simply being a brilliant historian to the most compassionate, empathetic and erudite story-teller of modern India. Each of the stories in this poignantly sensitive book have been dealt with such love, humility and understanding towards the protagonist in the story, that the writer almost disappears as a non judgmental narrative voice in the background. Its almost like seeing the story visually with Dalrymple's kind voice in the background. Kind because, he treats his characters with such respect and kindness. Even though, there is an air of melancholy permeating through the pages; the reader carries after completing each story - a feeling of depth, satisfaction and sense of gratitude to have just read about an almost mythical hero living amongst us. Dalrymple has shown us in this book, his fine art of seeing the 'profound in the profane' once again.
For a sensitive reader like me, this is a rare piece of art.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars In search of the human condition 19 Jan 2010
Format:Paperback
The publisher does this book no favours by describing it as a "modern Indian Canterbury tales" it is far more than that, it is a well-researched look at how religious devotion survives in a changing country. Several of the nine individuals of this book, have given up possessions, family, and desires in search of spirituality, others such as the idol-maker or the folk minstrels of Rajasthan continue centuries old traditions. For them, God resides in their craft, their story telling, their songs (Bauls), or their paintings (Bhopas). As a tantric devotee says in the book: "you get here what you cannot find anywhere else: pure human beings."

Dalrymple already has a well-deserved reputation as a historian and travel writer, and some see this book as being in the travel-writing genre. I think it tries to go further and examine the human condition. Dalrymple allows each of the nine to tell their own story and provides some background research on the different groups. That is interesting as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. Dalrymple's is too detached as an observer, and in too much of a hurry as he criss-crosses the country to really understand the context of his subjects' lives.

In the 1930s the philosopher-traveller Dr Paul Brunton wrote "A Search In Secret India", recounting his travels seeking out renowned mystics, fakirs and other holy men, to understand what makes them and their followers tick. That vivid and compelling book is still in print, and for good reason. Brunton is more adept and analytical, able to better convey the spirituality of his subjects. Dalrymple's "Nine Lives" has much the same aims, but each chapter remains just a snapshot that falls well short of Brunton's masterpiece in drawing us into his subjects' state of mind.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By Arun
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As Indians we often take pride in the diversity in our society and justifiably so. Why the hell not I say! But after reading this book you will have much more to be proud of and unfortunately also to be sad about. Proud because you realise how much more diverse the Indian society is, and sad because we will never be able to grasp the magnitude of the diversity in our lifetime and that it will be lost to time sooner rather than later. And to think that India is a fraction of the whole world, it is very sobering thought!

To my mind, what WD manages so successfully in this book is to be a transparent medium between his interviewees and his audiences without falling pray to the temptation of interpreting/judging his interviewees' actions or their way of life. And you are always kept glued to their lives and their stories by way of wonderful writing. I can easily imagine 100 ways how this exercise could have turned out to be journalistic or preachy. I was struck by WD's ability to be nonjudgmental and honesty. Superb effort.

Highly recommended for anyone and everyone.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
William Dalrymple is one of my favourite authors.This is his latest book. It is a travel book . There are 9 chapters on his conversations and interactions with 9 persons touching on their respective religious traditions of India. The first chapter is on Mataji, a Jain. The third chapter is on Rani Bai, a devadasi -these are girls given to Hindu temples to serve the Gods but now plying their trade as prostitutes.

Dalrymple said that the idea for this book was born 16 years ago in 1993 when he was corkscrewing up a Himalayan trail. He does not identify when his interviews took place. It is therefore difficult to envisage when and how India's traditional forms of religious life have been transformed in the vortex of the region's rapid change.If you are looking for a history book on India's religious traditions this is not for you. But if your interest is in the travel genre do read this book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Delighted with my purchase and the very fast delivery
Published 1 month ago by G Steward
3.0 out of 5 stars Informative but detached
Dalrymple, a super-perceptive Indophile whose two previous works (City of Djinns and The Last Mughal) had exhilarated me with both his research and his reactions does away with the... Read more
Published 3 months ago by coronaurora
5.0 out of 5 stars Illuminating and humbling
Reading this makes one realise what one has and how little most of us are prepared to give up to attain moksha.
Published 4 months ago by KEITH HART
5.0 out of 5 stars Different
Short stories that are interesting and without comment. William does a great job in collecting and presenting some really unusual lives and the way that it is set out means you... Read more
Published 5 months ago by M Ellel
3.0 out of 5 stars I feel a little swindled by this book
Whereas Nine Lives is well written, two of the nine stories have been told before. Specifically, Lal Peri and the Sufi temple; Manisha Ma Bhairavi and the Tarapith cremation... Read more
Published 6 months ago by H. M. Sykes
3.0 out of 5 stars Dalrymple is a very good writer whose work is always interesting, but...
As always, William Dalrymple has written a book which is hard to put down. His stories of the 9 people he chose to write about are gripping, indeed fascinating. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Fishpix2010
5.0 out of 5 stars CULTURE AND HISTORY
W.D. is always such a good read and provides brilliant insight into what is for me, another culture. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Mrs. A. M. Nunn
4.0 out of 5 stars Amazing people
The people featured in this book have a timeless quality to their extraordinary lives. In a fast changing India we are fortunate that William Dalrymple has told their story. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Somerset
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating examination of spirituality in India's daily life
Dalrymple has selected 9 very different people and listened to their stories. He's an acute observer and his excellent background knowledge and commentary illuminate his subjects'... Read more
Published 8 months ago by CK-N
5.0 out of 5 stars loving creation of lives lived in a moment of great change
This book gives insight to a continent undergoing great cultural shift.
Dalrymple writes with warmth, knowledge and humility about the paradox of Indian spiritual and social... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Rocknessjude
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