on 20 April 2007
I picked this book because I was looking for something to tell me about the way life is changing on the Indian sub-continent. I was expecting a report about economic success and increasing materialism. What I got was much a deeper, darker, far more interesting but worrying political and economic report surrounding tales of everyday life.
It's rare good fortune to stumble over a book that tells you things you never knew you didn't know; Pankaj Mishra explores and explains details about life in the East which are truly shocking to someone like me who thinks she's reasonably well-informed about world affairs. This book has entirely changed my views on India. We hear and read in the West about India's marvellous economic revolution and how we all ought to be doing business with the forward thinking, intelligent people there. Who wants to know about all the other people who aren't feeling the benefit, who are becoming poorer, deprived of even the basics for a bearable life, living in fear of violence?
This is a book about individuals' lives, people that Mishra helps us to understand and like or dislike, in whom we become fascinated. Educated people who can't even dream of finding a job, corrupt politicians and their dedicated counterparts, aspiring film stars, bereaved families. It's a book about people and their backgrounds, the political and economic backdrops against which their difficult lives are played out. I wonder what has happened to them?
I've been urging people to read this book, especially people who do business with India. This is not an easy nor a comfortable read, but it is a rewarding one.
on 6 September 2008
I picked this up because I wanted to know more about India and Pakistan in particular, not being very knowledgable on the subject. I bought it on a whim and I'm very glad I did.
On the positive: This is a brilliantly written work, the author is both a journalist and a novelist and it shows. The prose is fluid and a joy to read. Thge author is very well informed with regard to India. The chapters on Indian politics, Hindu nationalism and Bollywood are by turns funny, moving and informative. The author interviews many 'ordinary' people and low-level politicians, such that one gets a very real sense of how people live their lives and the everyday struggles they face. At it's best this book demystifies the 'Orient'. In particular, one comes to see that India is not some strange, foreign land, but a very real place, not nearly so different from the West as I had presumed in my ignorance. The author has a very good sense of both 'East' and 'West' and displays his knowledge with skill, to the benefit of the reader.
Negatives: Some of the chapters are perhaps a little too long, and such they tend to drag a little. Once the author leaves his native India, the chapters become a little unfocused. While still well written, they tend to meander and it's difficult to see what point he's trying to make. The chapter on Pakistan only briefly discusses that nation and instead focuses on Afghanistan, which is disappointing and confusing, as the following chapter is solely dedicated to Afghanistan. Also the chapter on Tibet seemed rather fleeting and shallow, as though it were tacked on to fill up the rest of the book.
That said this book is well worth reading and very informative for someone who, like myself, doesn't have much knowledge 'India, Pakistan and Beyond'. It contains all the historical and political facts one might wish to know about the countries involved, whilst never straying too far from how the various strands of history, politics, religion and ecomomics affect everyday people and their lives. A well written, informative and genuinely moving piece of work.
on 30 March 2014
musings of a journalists life and returns to india,nepal,tibet etc some really interesting chapters bollywood with its interviews with directors and aspirers.the chapter on kashmir is interesting but theres really nothing new here also it did,nt conjure up the smells and dust of india its chapters on nepal and tibet a bit formula
on 9 January 2008
With such a plethora of books about `India Shining' I wondered whether Pankaj Mishra could come up with any new insights on the changes in that country. I had read his earlier book "Butter Chicken In Ludhiana" which, although flawed, provided a much-needed small-town view of India. But Butter Chicken was a travel book. His new book "Temptations of the West" seemed at first a much more ambitious work. The cover blurb leads us to believe it will be an analytical look, perhaps with deeper philosophical musing about the effects of India's modernisation on its people. It does not do this.
Mishra once again visits small-town India (eg. Benares, Allahabad) but he barely gets beneath the surface. His personal encounters with people appear banal and hardly shed light on their predicament or even hopes and fears in a changing India. Rather than using Benares as a mirror of what is going on in the small towns in the 21st century, Mishra never gets round to telling us why Benares is of particular interest, other than that he was once a student there.
Elsewhere Mishra strays into the political realm, but without the bite or insight of the many, many outstanding political columnists writing in India's newspapers or magazines. His second-hand views (he is unable to interview any RSS people directly) about the Hindu nationalists seem dated (views that were widely held before the BJP came to power) and do not tell us how the organisation changed once in government, or how other people's views of the RSS have changed. This is a mediocre attempt at political journalism.
The book is really a collection of essays which are not connected with each other. This would not matter if they were excellent in themselves. Unfortunately they come across as inadequately researched. They are really a collection of personal observations, which fail to excite us or enlighten us in the way that Mark Tully does with a similar mix of travel, personal observation (and it has to be said investigative journalism, which Mishra lacks completely).
Is India changing? Of course it is, but Mishra's book is not the one to tell us how or why. Read Tully instead.
on 15 August 2009
Mishra writes almost as well as Naipaul- but Naipaul's art is like that of the Master Sushi chef who slices off the poison sac of the fugu fish- thus being almost as good as Naipaul but not quite means your product still is vomit worthy. However, Mishra has successfully differentiated his product from the Nobel laureate by being anti BJP ( a good thing) and coming out strongly against Indian bungling in Kashmir. There is some good journalism here-well, maybe not, if you actually start fact checking- but Mishra's self pity is no substitute for empathy- his repeated claims to understand all manners of marginalised losers because he himself comes from such an uncultured and parochial background soon start to ring hollow- unless, perhaps, you're White in which case Mishra is definitely your man.
My own feeling is that Mishra should repackage himself as a burqa clad transvestite with recovered memories of childhood incest within the overall context of Patriarchy and Neo-Colonialism. I look forward to his empathic reaction to Abu Ghraib prisoners whose experiences, he may tell us, parallel his own at his College hostel- except for the forced sodomy which, of course, would remind him of journeys on the Northern Line, of the London Underground, during rush hour.
Still, Mishra has talent. If only he could break away from his self-pity, like get a sense of humour already, I'm sure he could write marginally better crap.