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4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 13 April 2016
I bought this to take to India, I read the first 2 stories and agonizingly left it on a boat crossing the Andaman Islands. I will buy it again to read the other stories. The 2 I read were fascinating insights into human beings experience as real people pursuing deep spiritual paths.
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on 17 March 2014
Short stories that are interesting and without comment. William does a great job in collecting and presenting some really unusual lives and the way that it is set out means you can read one story over a short space of time.
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on 14 September 2010
Fascinating book, making plain the relationship between poverty,isolation, desperation and the esoteric. Its too simple to talk of superstition and the powerless, these many stories indicate the net of tradition that supports the neediest. Touching and gripping as well as informative. Loved it and will probably make it my Christmas present book -
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on 4 February 2014
As always, William Dalrymple has written a book which is hard to put down. His stories of the 9 people he chose to write about are gripping, indeed fascinating. But it's a strange sort of fascination - these are religious obsessives whose lives and behaviour are weird, sometimes in the extreme. You feel that he is deeply sympathetic to these people and could easily be tempted into this sort of fundamentalism himself, whereas the objective reader may tend more towards the feeling that these people are severely damaged and need help.
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on 22 May 2014
Dalrymple, a super-perceptive Indophile whose two previous works (City of Djinns and The Last Mughal) had exhilarated me with both his research and his reactions does away with the latter with middling results. Here, he stands apart and let nine people cherry-picked from a few states who are keeping a fringe religion with all its practices and ideologies intact alive, talk. And each of these nine vignettes pack in an extraordinary life: epic struggles in both past and present offset by complete submission to a whole framework of a religious doctrine or practice. Sometimes inherited, mostly serendipitous, each of the protagonist's finding a grid of faith which leads to their self-actualisation is earnestly captured and brought to context with Dalrymple-typical socio-cultural history of it.

Some novel and thought provoking conflicts do emerge with these enquiries: the idea of improved literacy killing off the oral tradition, a monk being forced to lead a life of killing having to submit and retract his vow of non-violence, and the most common refrain: that of the modern world pushing these once-mainstream practices into corners or the practices themselves evolving into less comprehensive, less pure versions with declining patrons and practitioners.

But I sorely missed a sort of an active authorial presence. While Dalrymple offers quite a credible commentary on his non-presence in the introduction, the lack of continuous input from him (however appropriating or misappropriating on however many levels), as humorous asides or a more contrarian stance, or a personal epilogue renders the book an air of a well-articulated but passive collection of some cultural/faith experiences that other than transiently edifying, remain suspended like curiosity bubbles afloat in mid-air.

The almost clinical transcription of the proponents' monologue do bring forth interesting subtexts to the table: the ever-present duel between rationality and religion, modernity and history, evolved fringe vs anaemic mainstream and finally the evolution from once-mainstream to now-anachronistic: but these are predictable given the dynamic flux that India has been under for the last few centuries and simply were not enough to make the book memorable for me.
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on 6 September 2012
I absolutely loved this book. I've read all of William Dalrymple's books and his knowledge of India, its culture, history and people, is deep and perceptive. This book takes the form of nine interviews/experiences with people in different walks of life in India. It explores their backgrounds, why they have ended up where they are, the influence of their religion and philosophy has on their choice of life. It's non-judgemental: Dalrymple simply lets the interviewees tell their own story, which is relayed simply and thoughtfully. A really excellent read.
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on 19 December 2013
Dalrymple has selected 9 very different people and listened to their stories. He's an acute observer and his excellent background knowledge and commentary illuminate his subjects' own commentaries on their lives and philosophies.
In some ways it's elegiac - the pressures and tensions of modernity increasingly threaten millennia old traditions, for example those who can recite epics for days would seem to be a dying breed, and the 'holy harlots' in the temples (devadasis) are barely different now from rural sex workers, riddled with HIV.
I found it uplifting, moving and enlightening. The author wears his considerable depth of knowledge lightly, and writes clearly and well, he doesn't get in the way of his subjects, rather he draws them out as he gets to know them. It's a great read!
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on 25 January 2014
W.D. is always such a good read and provides brilliant insight into what is for me, another culture. His investigation and reporting helped me to understand and feel more able to emphathise, even if not agree, with others with deep, cultural histories. These are their lives and we are able to share in some them.
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on 27 August 2013
I did not find it as compelling as other writings by the same author, as I'm not a fan of short stories, and in a sense this is really what the book consists of. On the other hand his sense of place is always brilliant, and his understanding of the many many issues of religion, caste and poverty throughout India is second to none. His descriptive passages really open up to you and sometimes you can really smell the woodsmoke and cattle dung, as well as the more unsavoury odours which abound in India. THe more I read, the more I got into it, the more I liked it
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on 4 January 2012
Quite the best overview of modern religious diversity in India I have read. William Dalrymple's comprehensive and sympathetic synopsis of the impact of ancient and contemporary religion in India today is magnificently handled. Clearly written yet able to deal with sophisticated currents of belief, including issues of fundamentalism and sexuality, Dalrymple's Nine Lives is a must for any student of Indian religion.
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