Reached for this off the bookshelf while suffering a fever and cold and was just what I needed, remembering those rooftop guest houses and the tangled kites, the ghats, the river boats, the pilgrims of Varanasi Benares A wonderful look across and within cultures from the perspective of a young Indian man. Giving this three stars because of an amazing beginning The 100 first pages were so good, I was definitely thinking this would be a 5 star rating The culture clash between Europeans and Indians was so interesting to delve into, especially from an Indian point of view However, after 100 pages the plot just kinda stopped I meanCharacter development Nah, not really Besides, I didn t feel like the protagonist was fleshed out enough to make me understand some of his actions.Love interest Lol, wouldn t say so.Plot development NON EXISTENTSo yeah This was a disappointment. Pankaj Mishra Is One Of The Most Promising Talents Of His Generation, And This Stunning, Universally Praised Novel Of Self Discovery Heralds A Remarkable CareerThe Young Brahman Samar Has Come To The Holy City Of Benares To Complete His Education And Take The Civil Service Exam That Will Determine His Future But In This City Redolent Of Timeworn Customs, Where Pilgrims Bathe In The Sacred Ganges And Breathe In Smoke From Burning Ghats Along The Shore, Samar Is Offered Entirely Different Perspectives On His Country Miss West And Her Circle, Indifferent To The Reality Around Them, Represent Those Drawn To India As A Respite From The Material World And Rajesh, A Sometimes Violent, Sometimes Mystical Leader Of Student Malcontents, Presents A Jaundiced View More Than Merely Illustrating The Clash Of Cultures, Mishra Presents The Universal Truth That Our Desire For The Other Is Our Most Painful Joy The Romantics, Mishra s only novel, is well stated, with a lovely use of language and semantics But if I, an unestablished not yet emerging author, had written this novel for a creative writing class, I m sure it would have come back to me slashed and bleeding red ink all over the place Mishra tells a first person narrative of Samar, a young academic living in Benares, and the various foreigners presumably the titular romantics he encounters, becomes acquainted with, and may or may not befriend He aimlessly meanders, as does the novel, through about a decade of his life, without really accomplishing much.readhere Well at least I finished it this timeBoredom got to me last time I tried to read this book The narrator is a dull, insecure observer who doesn t reveal enough of himself or others for this reader to be drawn into his world Samar reminisces about his time as a student in the holy city of Benares, where he hoped to lose himself in books My response to this book is much like his response to his first reading of Flaubert s Sentimental Education which struck him as flat and overly long He did persevere to the very end, but it was with the bloody mindedness with which a man might finish a marathon long after he has run out of energy I find the parallels between these two booksinteresting than the novel itself, and my summary of The Romantics is best summed up by Samar s own summary of Flaubert s writing long detailed descriptions that go nowhere,of artistic and literary ambitions that dwindle and then fade altogether, of lives that have to reconcile themselves to a slow, steady shrinking of horizons something of Hindu fatalism a sense of life as a drift and futility artistic and literary ambitions ticklong detailed descriptions that go nowhere ticka sense of life as a drift tick Yawn This is Pankaj Mishra s first book Since the book is set in Varanasi, I had to read it But frankly i was quite disappointed to read it A depressing book, it follows the pseudo acceptance of the West s fascination and way of looking at Varanasi There is no coherence of central plot or idea and when you finish the book, you think, why did I waste my time on it Avoid. The Romantics, by contemporary Indian author Pankaj Mishra, seems to be his only novel Which is a pity, because I really enjoyed it.Last weekend I went to a Melbourne Writers Festival session called Bookwallah, which I thought was going be a promotion of Indian writing, but instead the session turned out to be primarily journalistic commentary about the state of India today The panel consisted of Annie Zaidi, Chandrahas Choudhury and moderator Nick Law Although they didn t really talk much about books they did offer a glimpse of the sort of themes one might encounter in the literature of India Religious conflict every Indian, they said, had to make up his her mind about the conflict between Hindu and Muslim, even though there are now some who say that the hatreds of Partition are now long ago City versus village life the vast majority of Indians still live in villages, although of course this is changing Indian democracy this is not taken for granted, as it is, for instance, in Australia There are different layers, headed obviously by parliamentary democracy, but rather like Australia each state is responsible for some aspects such as education but can be over ruled by the Federal Parliament if they over step their responsibilities Then there is also village democracy similar to our local councils where apparently it takes some courage to stand up against the rich and powerful Corruption is endemic, and at all levels of bureaucracy, from registering a crime to doing the paperwork to buy a house The desire to enter the life changing formal labour market i.e to have ongoing employment with a significant employer rather than casual work in the informal labour market where most Indians work at whatever they can Class and caste, a pervasive preoccupation going back centuries It s not talked about much, but it doesn t need to be because it is taken for granted that marriages will sustain the status quo The size of the population There are 1.2 billion people in India, so for example, if 5% of them work in the burgeoning call centre industry, educated enough to know English, do a little maths and have competency with IT then the impact on the domestic economy is huge because this 5% now has an income to spend While the panel did not refer to the fact that India has just had to pass Food Security legislation to alleviate poverty, 20% of the population is middle class and that s about 250 million people Diversity India is multi ethnic and multi lingual, and Indian authors write in many different languages Even if one knows, say, four of these languages, it s not possible, they said, to grasp the entirety of Indian writing.While I had already recognised most of these themes in The Romantics by the time I heard this session, it was interesting to find them in a wider context The Romantics is an ironic coming of age story in which the central character Samar finds that his disillusionment with life and with India is much like that of Fr d ric Moreau in A Sentimental Education Having read Flaubert s novel but failed to grasp its resonance with his own life, Samar finds on a second reading, that The protagonist, Fr d ric Moreau, seemed to mirror my own self image with his large, passionate but imprecise longings, his indecisiveness, his self contempt Also the book through its long, detailed descriptions, spread over many years, of love affairs that go nowhere, of artistic and literary ambitions that dwindle and then fade altogether, of lives that have to reconcile themselves to a slow, steady shrinking of horizons held out a philosophical vision that I couldn t fail to recognise Something of a Hindu fatalism seemed to come off its pages, a sense of life as drift and futility and illusion p 210 For Samar, the disillusionment comes because he romanticises the West Mishra s novel shows how for this generation the gulf between ambition and reality can make for a painful journey to adulthood In this poignant coming of age story Samar is smitten by his new Western friends but conscious that he will never have the same prospects Always an outsider at events, he gradually realises that he will never be able to travel the world as they do or be as careless about money, nor can he be as insouciant about relationships because he is hidebound by Brahmin traditions, as well as by Indian class and caste consciousness.Samar comes to the city of Benares to study for the Civil Service exams He s not well off he s a Brahmin whose father retains some nostalgia for its traditions and expects Samar to shoulder traditional responsibilities, but the Brahmin caste does not, in the new India, have the wealth and power that it formerly had So Samar needs to join the formal labour market and he has to pass those exams to achieve employment in the Civil Service It s highly competitive and there are thousands of rivals, most of whom will be disappointed.To read the rest of my review please visit I felt like this book assaulted me when I was finished with it Mishra ruthlessly handles young Western travelers who establish themselves for long periods of time in foreign countries, thoroughly questioning their motives It is not a book that eliminates a desire to travel, but instead invites us to question how we travel from how we view traveling, what we hope to gain from traveling, and how we interact and perceive and relate to locals in the areas that we travel.Wonderful, thoughtful, effective I read it when I was in India, and it couldn t have beeneffective in that setting I encourage anyone who enjoys traveling to read this novel. Pankaj Mishra is another of those writers from Asia influenced by V.S Naipaul and it shows here in his first novel The succinct sentences and reflections on the small dramas of ordinary life are familiar The book is madepleasant than some of Naipaul s writing by the refreshing absence of misanthropy This is a story about searching Westerners and drifting Indians whose lives intersect in Varanasi I read it as being subtly autobiographical, though I do not know to what extent it reflects Mishra s own life The prose is simple and eloquent One could argue that not much happens, but somehow that doesn t detract from the enjoyment The main character is someone that most people who live a life of the mind can probably relate to on some level.I mfamiliar with Mishra s non fiction works, but this book shows his talents as a novelist as well Hope to seeworks like this from him one day in the future. The Romantics is, in many ways, about the unbridgeable gap between two disparate cultures between the supercilious sense of superiority which the West holds over the East, a feeling which is perpetuated by those who claim to hold an affinity to the East, seeking to reduce it s rich and diverse cultural heritage into an easy set of cliches and platitudes, fetishizing its beliefs, people and practices, cloaking the vapidity of their spiritual seances beneath a garbled set set of misconstructions and misconstruememts Likewise, the East, struggling under the weight of a sense of collective cultural inferiority reveres the West to the point of adulation This isn t so much a criticism of cultural interaction, after all every culture is fluid and is a patchwork quilt of a myriad of different beliefs and cultures, buta reflection of the toxicity of imperialism, of the deep rooted psychological impact it continues to have and, in the context of The Romantics , the barriers it creates between individuals from these cultures from forming relationships, both romantic and platonic, with one another The Romantics follows the story of the reclusive and introverted Samar and his time in Benares The city itself is rendered beautifully, its vibrancy brought alive beneath a cacophony of colours, of pink tinted sunsets and the dazzling reflections of the summer sun on the waters of the River Ganges Samar runs into Diana West, a pessimistic if well meaning English woman whose friendship allows Samar to break free from the shell of loneliness within which he encased himself Samar makes multiple references to Flaubert s A Sentimental Education in the novel and the reader can see the link between Samar and Frederic both are naive and callow, repressed by a deep sense of diffidence and inferiority, withdrawn from life and in thrall to an older, beautiful and outwardly confident woman who is unattainable Both use this experience to grow and mature, although a streak of cynicism and bourgeoisie mediocrity embeds itself in Frederic by the end of A Sentimental Education , Samar is still hanging on the precipice between his insularity and desire to become an active member of society at the end of the novel In Samar s case the woman who he falls in love with is Catherine, a French woman, whose outward assurance belies a deep sense of inferiority and need to be loved, her personality is perfectly captured and encapsulated in the following passage where Samar describes the party in which he first met Catherine But it is the picture of her sitting up very straight on the jute mat, abstractedly plucking at the tanpura s strings, the light form the short, flickering flame of the diyas bathing her clear, unblemished face in a golden glow, that has stayed most vividly with me, and is the central force that illuminates the rest of the evening in my memory Yet it would be hard to describe Samar s relationship or feelings for Catherine as being passionate rather they are a tepid series of emotions which are ensconced in a deep sense of inferiority and idealisation of Catherine and love even when the two achieve physical intimacy their attempts are clumsy and languid, both are held back by the idealised images they have created of one another in their minds Catherine as an unobtainable, sexually confident and emotionally mature European woman and Samar as a naive, gullible and repressed Indian man Of course both characters have personalities which,or less, adhere to these ideals, but neither character is able to view the other from outside this narrow lens To further complicate matters, Catherine is in a relationship with the mediocre and mewling musician Anand, who she idealises and imbues with non existent qualities in her mind he represents the exoticism of Indian, misreading his selfishness for being misunderstood.However, it is Mishra s colouring of the secondary characters and Indian where the novel really shines Mishra brings out the essential hopelessness poverty endemic in India Nowhere is thisapparent than the cash of Rajesh an otherwise sensitive and intelligent young man who is pushed into a life of crime and isolation, Mishra emphasises the sense of helplessness Rajesh is over come by as fate and circumstance push him towards a life which he never wished for One of the most resonant passages is of when Samar visits Rajesh s village and witnesses the poverty and degradation of it s inhabitants This is the real India which the Western characters so constantly seek, an Indian of subjugation and extreme hardship and not the simulacrum of spiritual stereotypes which they imbue it with Mishra is, however able to wonderfully render the magical, even mystical beauty of the Indian landscape, of the uniqueness and quiddity of it s atmosphere The sea from my window was a broad sparkling band of silver foil blinding after a long spell in my curtained room which, later that afternoon, as dark clouds gathered, shaded into restless grey The rain, when it came, briefly pockmarked the sea and the obliterated all sight in a steamy white mist The long asphalt promenade was deserted now but, on humid, rainless afternoons that followed, I would see a couple of toy sellers, their red and yellow balloons straining upwards against the silently heaving seas The Romantics is a beautiful crafted about love and relationships between individuals from opposing and incompatible cultures.
Pankaj Mishra is a noted Indian essayist and novelist.In 1992, Mishra moved to Mashobra, a Himalayan village, where he began to contribute literary essays and reviews to The Indian Review of Books, The India Magazine, and the newspaper The Pioneer His first book, Butter Chicken in Ludhiana Travels in Small Town India 1995 , was a travelogue that described the social and cultural ch
- 288 pages
- The Romantics
- Pankaj Mishra
- 18 May 2019 Pankaj Mishra