Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Elephanta Suite by Paul Theroux

Like the grubby Americans whose adventures are documented in the three stories here, I was expecting a romantic experience with India in this book: the scents, the crushing poverty, moments of serene beauty and transformation.

What you get instead is a grim two-sided world. The pampered pale foreigners on one side, and the intricate mass of india on the other, both relying on dehumanizing usage patterns to survive. The Americans are clearly, brazenly using the Indians, and the Indians play on the shame and vanity of the American to use them in return. In this book, India is a gigantic DMV filled with paperwork and fees and duites paid. It is possibly as unromantic a take on an exotic locale as I've read.

Paul Theroux is a seasoned traveller, but with this calloused view of humanity, one wonders why. It is the only book I've read by him, so wonder if he views the whole world as whores and idiots and opportunists, where only the hardened will trive. The intricale clockwork of humanity kept me going through the stories even when I hated everyone in them, and thereby, I actually liked the book, but it is a cold breed of "like." I think because, like the travellers in the book, I had my notions rudely shaken, and even when you don't like what you see, it is still good for you to see it. Link

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