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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 27 May 2002
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
on 8 September 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
VINE VOICEon 22 January 2002
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
on 20 December 1999
'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
on 3 May 2002
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 31 March 2001
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. Pankaj Mishra captures wonderfully the essence of ones inner self,& at the same time he also evokes a real sense of being in India- hearing the noises,smelling the smells,you could almost be there yourself.His prose is haunting & lyrical,with many of his sentences staying with you long after you have finished reading. I would certainly recommend this novel.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 1 April 2001
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. Beautifully & lyrically compelling.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 2 August 2001
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. The choice of words, the descriptions of India, the revalations of one's inner self, the expression of emotions & feelings.....it was just poetry!!! I would certainly recommend this book to be an amazing read. Excellent work Mr Mishara! Please continue the good work.
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on 11 February 2000
The tale of a young graduate killing time in Benares (Varanasi) under cover of preparing for his civil service exams. If you've been there - its great, you can really sense the atmosphere. If you can't I'm not so sure that the writing alone will take you there The writing is fine but not a lot really happens to our hero - but then that's life really, isn't it? Life is what happens to the people around us - and he observes it beautifully. The characters are well developed - although perhaps the narrator himself writes as if he's worried his mother will read the book and disapprove - and cover a broad range of the Indian experience - from student revolutionaries to the disappointed middle-aged mistress. Good, but not a masterpiece
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on 26 February 2000
This is book with "word paintings". Paintings covering landscapes and persons. The links between the persons are weak only thin fragile threads connect them. The paintings are beautiful with an unhappy atmosphere. Nothing nice that lasts happens in the book. Nothing disastrously bad either. It is like a beautiful sad impressionistic painting. This may not sound like a book worthwhile to read. It is. Why? It presents a reality in the same way that a fine painting can be more real than a photograph.
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