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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The modern East meets Westernised
At first I had a bit of difficulty working out whether this was a novel or not, the last book I read by Taseer was a travelogue exploring the Islamic world of his paternal heritage. This book is very much about Taseer's maternal inheritance; he is the product of a Pakistani father and an Indian Hindu mother who brought him up, mostly among her extended family in Delhi. So...
Published on 8 April 2010 by David J. Kelly

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Quite What It Wanted To Be
Producing a work which captures the nature of being Indian in modern India seems to be fascinating writers there at this present time. Be it through the non-fiction reportage style of Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found or the fiction of the likes of The White Tiger the theme looks set to fascinate Indian writers for some years to come. Astish Taseer's novel tries to...
Published on 15 Mar. 2010 by pjr


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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Quite What It Wanted To Be, 15 Mar. 2010
By 
pjr (London, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Temple-goers (Paperback)
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Producing a work which captures the nature of being Indian in modern India seems to be fascinating writers there at this present time. Be it through the non-fiction reportage style of Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found or the fiction of the likes of The White Tiger the theme looks set to fascinate Indian writers for some years to come. Astish Taseer's novel tries to address the issue and uses the outsider's return to do so.

Taseer is billed as something of a rebel by the publishers here yet his book never quite hits these heights. He addresses issues such as the rejection of arranged marriage, homosexuality, and the independent single and educated women but in a way which sees them as a checklist. The book's key themes struggle with the issue of modern India's headlong clash with its history and how it can reconcile the two - although it really does take a while to work out that this is what the book is actually about - and so for all the suggested contemporaray edge the book ploughs a somewhat conservative furrow. It's also a story about an unlikely friendship with a curious sexual frisson to it which the writer seems somewhat afraid to fully explore.

Yet the biggest issue is that the idea of the old and the new Indias is wrapped in something oblique, it's as if Taser doesn't want to express an opinion one way or another. I saw flashes of an India I recognised - it's a contradictory place both illogical and wondrful at the same time and filled with a people who absolutely adore their nation - Taser's book never quite gets the tone right in a way that Suketu Metha's "Maximum City" does. Perhaps it's a subject better suited to non-fiction at the moment, or perhaps the setting of Delhi doesn't quite give the same sharp contrasts as Mumbai does.

For all that it's a pleasant read, although perhaps not a good enough one to make you want to return. There is a point in this book when the protagonist receives a rejection from his publisher which descirbes the fictional novel he's been working on as "seriously flawed" and to "work on developing clarity and simplicity to its style". Oddly after finishing the novel one might, at times say the same about "The Temple Goers" itself.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Hyped up but fails to deliver, 19 April 2010
By 
Ed.F "edz314" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Temple-goers (Paperback)
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A writer returns to India to resume his relationship with his girlfriend and start another, less easily defined relationship, with his personal trainer. And that's about it. Despite attempts at other wordliness - the main protagonist sharing the author's name, a setting that is strange and unknown to many readers, and themes that include social inequality and the issues around mixed heritage - this novel is slow, dull and lacks empathy. Everyone knows everyone, no-one seems to like anyone, and no-one seems to do much. I was not engaged by any of the characters, but found them all annoying in their own shallow, self-absorbed ways. Maybe I just don't get it. However, I normally enjoy contemporay foreign writing as a way to absorb other cultures whilst enjoying a well-written story. The Temple-Goers just didn't do this for me.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Self-indulgent and over-hyped, 16 April 2010
This review is from: The Temple-goers (Paperback)
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Yet another example of a mundane book given the 'permissible hyperbole' treatment so it sounds like the best thing since the invention of paper. The writing is pretty average with an over-emphasis on boring details describing everyday things we are all familiar with. The characters are largely uninvolving and unexciting, the plot hard to discern (if there is one: I certainly couldn't find it), and any sense of dynamic is missing. It seems the main character could, in fact, be the author, and the book very much reads like someone writing about his life with the addition of a fictional edge. If this is the case, then unfortunately for the reader it is a very boring life, and the added fictional element does not liven it up by any significant degree. Occasionally there is a glimmer of something interesting, either by way of character or an event, or an example of new and old India grinding together, such as with the caste system, but it barely disturbs the soporific tempo of this disappointing novel.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The modern East meets Westernised, 8 April 2010
By 
David J. Kelly (Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Temple-goers (Paperback)
At first I had a bit of difficulty working out whether this was a novel or not, the last book I read by Taseer was a travelogue exploring the Islamic world of his paternal heritage. This book is very much about Taseer's maternal inheritance; he is the product of a Pakistani father and an Indian Hindu mother who brought him up, mostly among her extended family in Delhi. So here he is, his first language is English, he has been educated abroad, he seems to feel neither Hindu nor Muslim but he knows he is Indian and yet does not feel comfortable in his Indianess. It turns out that this is a novel but written in the first person with the author as the narrator.

In the book Aatish returns to Delhi to finish off his novel and moves in with his girlfriend from London. He starts going to the gym and meets and bonds with an ambitious, high caste but poor trainer called Aakash. Aakash leads the privileged westernised Aatish through the contradictions and conflicts between modern and old India where consumerism and western liberalism dominate the media and the affluent classes but where not too far under the surface are the sectarian and caste conflicts and superstition and honour systems inherited from pre colonial India. Aakash is remaking himself into a modern Indian but never loses sight of his heritage whereas Aatish is a modern Indian who has little contact with his. The book ends and begins with a sensationalised murder and the very Indian way that it pans out.

I really enjoyed this book, it paints a picture of a society that is evolving rapidly and finding its own identity. The traditional and the modern mix, as they must. The British feature in the novel but as a distant memory, almost like the British look back at the Romans. The characters enjoy drink and sex outside of marriage but go to temple and revere their ancient traditions but they all look forward, even the character who teaches Aatish Urdu so he can read his great grandfather's poems.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Flaws of Modernity, 17 Sept. 2012
By 
Ben Mirza "Ben M" (Brighton and South East) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Temple-goers (Paperback)
The son of a Sikh journalist from New Delhi and Salmaan Taseer, Governor of Pakistan's Punjab province, who was assassinated by Islamists in 2011, Aatish Taseer has an un-nerving talent for satirising modern India, laying bare its flaws and fallacies with delectable wry humour. His first novel The Temple-goers is an elaborate invocation of a world occupied by India's middle class, who have benefited most from the country's economic boom of the last two decades. To those Westerner's who have only viewed India's population as docile creatures, mired by inertia and superstition, then this novel will come as a shock. Taseer offers up a slice of contemporary Indian life that is steadily becoming the cause of much cultural curiosity, amongst other novelists such as Kishwar Desai and Man Booker Prize winner Aravind Adiga and film-makers such as Danny Boyle and Mira Nair.

The narrative is tinged with an unmistakable sense of bile and exasperation, the themes flit from one to the other, yet they are explored rigorously, thus giving the reader time to absorb them with equal interest. Ranging from the rejection of arranged marriage to homosexuality, Taseer's attempts at exploring these complex issues is sprawlingly ambitious to say the least. As the writer Andrew Robinson enthused in his review of the book for the Independent "the novel moves among Delhi's wealthy middle class in all its energy, brashness, pretentiousness, perversion and corruption, supported by a cast of thrusting, upwardly mobile hustlers and servants, all tinged with Bollywood-style romance." In my opinion, at its heart, The Temple Goers is more a literary caveat as to what one will turn into if exposed to too much wealth and privilege.

The protagonist Aatish, is a novelist who returns to Delhi from London, with his girlfriend, to finish off the remainder of his novel. Aatish is a man who has distanced himself entirely from tradition, much like Taseer himself; an overtly self aware character, bathed in trinkets, grandeur and style, yet whose personality is so wretched that he is ultimately an opaque shell. On his return to Delhi, Aatish registers at a down town gym, where he meets personal trainer Aakash, a High-Caste yet financially poor man, whose yearning desires for the high life are the cause of much confliction. As the novel progresses, a bond develops between the two, and stories and situations erupt around them. The introduction of the old Urdu teacher Zafar, who resides in Old Delhi with his devout family, gives a much needed injection of tradition, to this world of ultra-modern narcissists.

Taseer's writing is flawlessly erudite and he paints a rich portrait of Delhi, however there is one obvious tear in the canvas, which is that almost all of his characters are so unlikeable, and one finds it difficult to feel any sympathy what so ever for their problems. Taseer also appears unable to write sympathetically towards his characters, who are religiously devoted to pleasure and consumerism; it is a fallacy, in my opinion, that every single one of Delhi's middle class is a narcissistic monster. Having developed great friendships with several of Delhi's inhabitants over the years, from the very class that Taseer so enthusiastically scorns, I can say that they posses all the endearing qualities of any human being, kindness, loyalty and above all love. If Taseer could have seen fit to ameliorate some of his character's personalities, then we would have a novel of prize winning perfection.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Started off well then faded a bit, 10 May 2010
By 
A. Macfarlane (Edinburgh, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Temple-goers (Paperback)
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Taseer's book is the story of murder played out against the back drop of modern privileged Indian life. The bulk of the action revolves round the character or Aatish, an upper class aspiring writer and his friendship (if that is the right word) with Aakash, a much poorer man he first meets working as his trainer in a gym. We follow their odd, and at times hard to understand companionship as Aakash guides Aatish through his poorer world. I say hard to understand; Aakash seems pushy and does not hide his interest in the oppertunities Aatish's privileged background might afford him, while Aatish seems caught in the headlights of Aakash's bold character and the world he takes him into. Aakash acts as guide through visits to slums, temples, modern malls, into his family life and to a brothel. Aatish is dragged along, unsure initially why he puts up with Aakash's brash behaviour but unable to pull away. Together they move through a world of politicians, Muslim minorities, gay culture, upperclass boredom and the poor.

The book opens very much like a crime novel: there's been a murder in the city. Then it moves almost in to travel fiction as Aatish paints a vivid picture of India seen though his slightly unfamiliar Western educated point of view. There is a feeling of unease at the start of the book, murder aside, things are not quite right here. Aatish lives a somewhat self indulgent world; with his girlfriend in their beautiful appartment, free to focus on writing his first novel and otherwise occupy himself as he pleases. A parallel is made between this book an Bret Easton Ellis's work and at the start of the book this is very much apparent. The pervading sense of ennui is everywhere, as is the bold self interest of both Aakash and Aatish, and the material world Aakash in particular aspires to. But this uneasy mood doesn't last; instead I think Taseer tries to take too much on. He pulls in lots of different aspects of India and its people, and instead of the edgy story he stared out with end up with a more confused narrative.

The book is full of well written stuff; Taseer describes places with vivid detail. His characters are carefully ambiguous. But this book didn't quite hold on to its early promise. I will look out for Taseer's other work - he's definately got my attention enough to give him another go - but The Temple Goers didn't quite go the distance for me.
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2.0 out of 5 stars neither engaging nor particularly interesting, 30 April 2010
By 
Mr. J W "john_w" (Glasgow) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Temple-goers (Paperback)
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I had high hopes for The Temple Goers. The promise of murder and corruption are always a good start; alongside this it threatened an exposé of the heart of new India's elite. Unfortunately the writing failed to deliver either an engaging or enlightening read. In the main, this was due to the characters who inhabit the world the author portrays. They are almost without exception neither engaging nor particularly interesting and it was impossible to empathise with any of them. Clearly, given the stated intent of the book this may have been the author's aim - however it could only have worked if there was something else to captivate the reader and unfortunately, there wasn't.

It wasn't all bad however, there was potential, but this was only realised in small measures. The relationship between Aatish and his personal trainer helped to develop a number of the key themes and was reasonably well executed. The writing style too had commendable moments, but these weren't sustained and the book felt stilted and unfocused. The pacing of the narrative was too pedestrian and for a book of only 300 or so pages it took me a long time to motivate myself to finish it - reading this was like drawing an exceptionally long line with a pencil, then measuring it - sounds interesting at first, but a week in and the exercise has somewhat lost whatever appeal it had. Where Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger was able to create an exciting and vibrant landscape that held interest whilst providing an articulate and enrapturing narrative of the conflicts between old and new India, the Temple Goers presented a more sterile read that, despite the potential (and hype) failed to deliver.

2 stars.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A disappointing read, 11 April 2010
By 
Angus Jenkinson "angusjenkinson" (Cambridgeshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Temple-goers (Paperback)
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The Temple Goers comes with high praise and a strong marketing strategy. It includes, for example, encouraging praise from V.S. Naipaul, an exquisite stylist and writer. So I expected something exceptional, but this was not it.

The story has resonances of Martin Amis (Money), Waugh (Brideshead Revisited), perhaps even the incredible richness of Proust. Like these books it is an analysis of a society in transition with a focus on the upper echelons and the somewhat debauched highlife of the new generation. So far, so encouraging.

The difference is that while such classics are riddled with tight, intelligent conversation, twisting irony and pathos, brilliant style, generating rich ambiguity mixing sympathy and critical knowledge about complex, interesting characters, this is not.

Aatish Taseer may indeed be a writer to watch, as Naipaul suggests, for he does have emerging style, but this is not yet the great Indian novel. Even when you want to show your characters as shallow, you can't afford to make that portrayal shallow. In Brideshead Revisited we experience the tragic destruction of a brilliant soul through the eyes of a sympathetic yet conflicted keen observer; here we have a writer telling a story about what he knows, which is what it is like trying to be a writer, using one of the hoariest of literary devices (at the end of the book we're told that the author sat down to write the story we just read) and featuring a demented egotist whose only real brilliance is in the shapeliness of his body.

As a reader, one rides over the surface of India's new high society. It's rather interesting to learn something about the lifestyle of the indulgent but ambitious rich, but this is only one thin slice, at best. Youy are not left aching for any character, yearning for more.

3 stars for some interest in India and emerging style.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointingly cold first person narrative, 2 Feb. 2010
By 
Ripple (uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Temple-goers (Paperback)
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Aatish Taseer, along with the 2008 Booker winner Aravind Adiga and Sukeu Mehta, is one of a handful of a new wave of Indian writers. As such, I was very much looking forward to this book, but I am sorry to say that it left me somewhat cold. Narrated in the first person, by a character called Aatish Taseer, The Temple-goers is set in modern day Delhi and tells of the narrator's return from the west to upper class Delhi and his friendship with Aakash, who reveals to him the underside of the city, and the deep inequalities that exist, along with the bribery and corruption that are present. I failed to get a sense of the charisma that attracts the narrator to this person though.

The publisher's blurb promises Aakash's arrest for murder and a politically sensitive investigation, but in truth that happens very late on in the book. And to be honest, those are some of the best parts of the novel. I'd love to have had more on the investigation - but this is skipped through.

Certainly, Taseer is able to convey something of the diversity of the city and the feelings of isolation that a returnee feels when so many changes have happened in his absence, but it's told in a very cold manner with almost no sense of humour that would make it more reader-friendly. He has an obsession with describing the flowers throughout the book, which just becomes repetitive, and I never got any sense of place from the descriptions. Neither did I warm to any of the characters, particularly the narrator, with the one possible exception of his girlfriend, Sanyogita, but their relationship seemed to be almost non-existent throughout.

The Bookseller has described Taseer as the "Indian Brett Easton Ellis" - but Easton Ellis has a dark vein of humour that makes his coldness more shocking. I was very disappointed in this book (although the last 50 or so pages picked up) although there is a good story at the heart of the novel. I wouldn't rule out reading more of his works, as I suspect he may be a talent to watch, but this felt unfocussed and too cold for my taste.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Dull, 20 Jan. 2011
By 
Lendrick (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Temple-goers (Paperback)
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I rarely give up on books, but 80 pages in I have to force myself to pick this up, and I can't be bothered to exert the effort anymore.

I thought this would be right up my street - I've been to India and have read quite a bit of Indian fiction. But however hard I try I can't engage any interest in this. The basic plot device - author returning to Delhi to finish his novel probably doesn't help. Authors writing about authors often seems just too incestuous - particulalry here as the main character shares the authors name.

But that wouldn't matter if the characters or story were interesting. But they don't hold my attention; the prose style is flat and 80 pages in nothing much has happened. Perhaps it gets better but I'm not sure I can be bothered to find out.
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