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The Romantics [Paperback]

Pankaj Mishra
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

9 Feb 2001
A first novel set in contemporary India, this book describes how Samar, a young Brahmin, escapes a future of small-town jobs to live in Benares, losing himself in books and solitude. Here, he meets Catherine, a French woman who stands at the centre of the events which destroy his equanimity.

Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; New edition edition (9 Feb 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330392778
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330392778
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 735,572 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

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

From the Publisher

A moving story of love and delusion set in modern India
Set in contemporary India, The Romantics tells the story of Samar, a young man who goes to live in Benares to avoid a small town job and to lose himself in reading and a world beyond himself. But soon the realities of the bustling holy city begin to intrude as Samar is introduced to a world of Europeans, of modern India and of disappointed love.

'Read it and find yourself at the source of something great' Candia McWilliam, Financial Times

'If you buy one literary novel this year, make sure it's this' Amanda Craig, The Times, Summer Books

'This bright new star is the real thing' David Robson, Sunday Telegraph --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A gentle fatalistic novel 27 May 2002
By A Customer
There is none of the intense heat, colour, noise, and passion usually assoicated with Indian novels in this book. Shrouded in fatilism the narrator drifts aimlessly and naively into a futile love affair. So frustratingly cool and calm is he you feel he's in need of a good night out. Mishra's softly undulating prose floats the reader through the novel on a mellow cloud of curiosity. The characters may be going nowhere but this is a successful beginning for Mishra full of promise and I look forward to his next novel.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The vigorous life of contemporary India 8 Sep 2005
Samar is a 20 year old student in 1989. He arrives in Benares, "the Oxford of the East", where he hopes to study and spend his time with his favourite books. He is a shy young man who does not enjoy the casual display of personality at social gatherings. The superficial amiability and the light chatter make him feel uncomfortable and he doesn't enjoy taking part in conversations, afraid to say the wrong thing and not quite sure what the right thing to say is. He grew up alone and therefore developed no skills for intimacy or even friendship which he feels requires a degree of self-abnegation from him.
However after meeting several characters like Miss West, Rajesh - a fellow student who turns out to be a criminal - and Catherine, Samar slowly realises that socialising allows him to discover a whole new world. It is particularly his love affair with Catherine which he experiences as a strong emotional turmoil. It is understandable since Samar grew up in a culture where men and women are ushered into marriage after parents have convinced each other about their respective social and financial status. Love is supposed to follow marriage and not the other way round and it doesn't matter much if it doesn't...
An interesting tale of a young provincial man who struggles to make sense of a strange and alien cosmopolitan world. The descriptions of Pondicherry, Allahabad, Benares, Dharamshala and the Himalayas are lyrical and the reader is constantly reminded of the bewitching power of India.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Almost perfect 22 Jan 2002
By Kamran Rahman VINE VOICE
This is an astounding book which is very unlikely to disappoint, unless you have picked it up thinking that it is a love story rather than a literary novel. Its an exciting "first novel" as praise-worthy as other debuts such as Arundhati Roy and Zadie Smith, although Mishra is undoubtedly more serious and reflective. This autobiographical work is steeped in introspection, self-examination and a very personal exploration executed through the eyes of Samar, a "bookish" character with whom readers will instantly identify. A fascinating tool used by Mishra is the idea of displacement as a counterpart to exploration. He makes each of his characters alien to their world - and this is very much at the core of the beauty of the book. Samar himself is an Indian in India, but his world and his experiences are more alien to him than the European characters in the book who come "seeking" to Samar's country.
Only the prose lets Mishra down. When he gets it right he is unrivalled in brilliance, subtlety and aptness, but when he gets it wrong it jars - every 10 or so pages. Neverthelss, reading the novel was a joy and it left me wanting to read it again to enjoy its subtle development in more detail. Of special delight was the very last page and a half on which hang an overwhelming mix of emotions that are in themselves the culmination of the book and the justification for its existence. They are the "romantic" emotions that can not be felt in real life, and can not be described in a review. They will be found nowhere else other than at the end of the journey of these 270 pages and when a novel manages to pull of a feat like this it is a reminder to us of why we read and why we hold literature in such high esteem
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The first 'provincial' Indian novel? 20 Dec 1999
By A Customer
'The Romantics' is of interest primarily because it attempts to delineate a 'provincial' India, as opposed to the more 'metropolitan' outlook of Rushdie, Seth, Desai, et al. The narrator, for example, grows up in Allahabad, spends time in Benares and then retires in Dharamshala. As such, it is is often fascinating in its description of the manners and mores of the smaller cities (the attitudes of the tourists who visit Benares, for example, or the outlook of students caught up in politics-infested universities). The author obviously is drawing upon his experiences while researching his earlier 'Butter Chicken In Ludhiana'. The painstaking, detailed descriptions are Flaubertian, and the cool, clinical dissection of events and incidents owes something to Naipaul. However, on too many occasions, Mishra substitutes summaries of scenes and events, rather than describe the actual scenes and events themselves. After a while, this smacks of being a literary short-cut and has the rather unfortunate effect of distancing the characters from the reader. We need to hear what they actually sound like, for example -- but in place of dialogue, all too often there is merely recapitulation. All things considered, however, 'The Romantics' does chart new territory for the Indian novel in English and as such, it is definitely worth reading.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
This is Pankaj Mishra's first book, but it is a work which any writer would be proud of. Reminiscent of early Naipaul - only perhaps more measured, and the tone more sombre - Mishra's prose is captivating, haunting, ethereal; sentences run on for several lines, and envelop the reader in their tones and shades absolutely. His perception of character, and of the subtlety and nuances of human interactions is deeply resonant and perceptive, and his equability and fairness rings through this beautiful and sad book. Highly recommended, and much better than the first novels of other highly touted young things. Absolutely first rate.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed
I thought this would be much more interesting than it was. Introverted people do not interest me too much. I expected more about Indian life.
Published 16 months ago by Tricia
5.0 out of 5 stars INDIAN NOVEL
Published on 19 Oct 2010 by John Tydeman
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply Out of this World.......Loved it All the way
This is one of the best books that I have read...ever. Though the book started off a little slow, after a few pages I just couldn't put the book down. Read more
Published on 2 Aug 2001 by Mr. Sri Raghavan
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic!
Really enjoyed this novel! Mishra encapsulates perfectly the evocative power of India at the same time as capturing his main characters thoughts & sense of self perfectly. Read more
Published on 1 April 2001
4.0 out of 5 stars a timeless story
Written in a beautiful, melancholic style. You get a "wish I was there" feeling. For all those who have a passion for India and are curious how Indians perceive Western... Read more
Published on 31 Mar 2001 by
4.0 out of 5 stars A beautifully written debut novel
It took about 20-25 pages to really get into the novel,but once i had i was utterly compelled & finished reading it within a day. Read more
Published on 31 Mar 2001
4.0 out of 5 stars A fine "word painting " from India
This is book with "word paintings". Paintings covering landscapes and persons. The links between the persons are weak only thin fragile threads connect them. Read more
Published on 26 Feb 2000
3.0 out of 5 stars Well written but lacking in excitement
The tale of a young graduate killing time in Benares (Varanasi) under cover of preparing for his civil service exams. Read more
Published on 11 Feb 2000
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