In his impressively perceptive and thoughtful first novel, The Romantics
, Pankaj Mishra explores the collisions of India's past with the onslaught of the new. Samar, a 19-year-old Brahmin, has arrived in the holy city of Benares in the winter of 1989 and taken a room where he intends to continue his solitary bookish life. His chosen companions are the likes of Edmund Wilson, Ivan Turgenev and Gustav Flaubert--with occasional unintended forays into the thick of student political upheavals through his acquaintance with the mysterious Rajesh.
But in the room next to his lives the Englishwoman Miss West, whose ex-pat entourage includes a beautiful young Frenchwoman, Catherine. Frozen by his own gaucheness and ineptitude, Samar is fascinated by what he sees as their "casual yet intimate knowingness. I felt the fragility of my own personality, my lack of opinions and taste". And yet he is convinced that in this predestined encounter with Catherine, "some of the richness of life and the world were revealed to me". With an unrelenting eye, Samar observes his own conflicts--the tumult of romantic delusion, of casual rejection, the unassuaged longings of youth--with the knowledge "that the past that had given shape and coherence to my parents lives was no longer available to me". There is neither lax nostalgia here nor conservative mourning for the past but simply a careful registering of what is.
The force of the novel's intelligence and observation, the seriousness of its purpose and its almost contemplative pace make Mishra's rite of passage for his central character and his society into a fine debut. --Ruth Petrie
‘Read it and find yourself at the source of something great’ Candia McWilliam, Financial Times
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