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The age of Kali: Travels and Encounters in India Paperback – 21 Jun 1999
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William Dalrymple has proved himself to be one of the most perceptive and enjoyable travel writers of the 1990s. His first book In Xanadu became an instant back-packer's classic, winning a stream of literary prizes. City of Djinns and From the Holy Mountain soon followed, to universal critical praise. Yet it is to India where Dalrymple continues to return in his travels, and his fourth book The Age of Kali is his most reflective book to date.
The result of 10 year's living and travelling throughout the Indian subcontinent, The Age of Kali emerges from Dalrymple's uneasy sense that the region is slipping into the most fearsome of all epochs in ancient Hindu cosmology: "the Kali Yug, the Age of Kali, the lowest possible throw, an epoch of strife, corruption, darkness and disintegration". The brilliance of this book lies in its refusal to slip into the cultural pessimism of books such as V.S. Naipaul's Beyond Belief. Dalrymple's love for the subcontinent, and his feel for its diverse cultural identity, comes across in every page, which makes its chronicles of political corruption, ethnic violence and social disintegration all the more poignant. The scope of the book is particularly impressive, from the vivid opening chapters portraying the lawless caste violence of Bihar, to interviews with the drug barons on the North-West Frontier, and Dalrymple's extraordinary encounter with the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. Some of the most fascinating sections of the book are Dalrymple's interviews with Imran Khan and Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan, which read like non-fictional companion pieces to Salman Rushdie's bitterly satirical Shame. The Age of Kali is a dark, disturbing book which takes the pulse of a continent facing some tough questions. --Jerry Brotton
‘Dalrymple is probably the best travel writer of his generation’ Daily Mail
‘The future of travel writing lies in the hands of gifted authors like Dalrymple’ Sara Wheeler, IndependentSee all Product description
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At first I was very enthusiastic. However Dalrymple makes occasional comparisons with Europe and I realised that, while he may understand India, he doesn't understand European history and culture, which is a pity. The comparisons play to popular and factually false prejudices about the Church and the Middle Ages.
Two thirds of the book is devoted to India (reasonable - it is subtitled `Indian Travels and Encounters') and the final third to Sri Lanka, Réunion and Pakistan which are not India and which I didn't want. Society is different in basically-Hindu India from that in basically-Moslem Pakistan. And with 30 pages devoted to him, I do think that Imran Khan and his world featured a little too well.
Dalrymple's encounters in India illustrate some of the facets of the land - corruption, glamour, cast problems etc. and here he achieves a interesting and informative balance between describing individual lives and the social/ political background. I would have enjoyed reading about more facets of Indian life.
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