As a tourist, I know I will never, ever understand any of the countries I visit. Never. And India strikes me as the most inscrutable of the bunch. So while in India, I put all my usual beach-read type books, and read only books about the subcontinent.
- White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga
- The New Anthem: The Subcontinent in Its Own Words, by Ahmede Hussaine
- The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty, by William Dalrymple
- Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, by Katherine Boo
- City of Djinns, by William Dalrymple
- Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts
…and would recommend them all (well, except maybe Shantaram). But out of the lot, Dalrymple stood out.
So when I spotted another Dalrymple title at Bookworm Bookstore, Hanoi (for $2.50! Bargain!) I grabbed it.
Dalrymple is just so good. He’s shaken off all of the ‘self-aggrandizement and racism’ found in his earlier books, and what remains is clear, fluent writing, vivid descriptions, and a genuine enthusiasm for the places he visits and people he encounters.
In Nine Lives, his narration takes a back seat. With very little narrative intrusion, he tells the stories of nine (very) different people, with nine (very different) lifestyles, in nine (very) different settings: a Jain nun in Sravanabelagola, a Dalit from Kerala, a devadasi from Karnakata, an Epic singer in Rajasthan, a Sufi in Bihar, a Tibetan Monk in Dharamsala, a bronze carver in Tamil Nadu, a goddess worshiper in Tarapith, and a wandering minstrel in West Bengal.
Needless to say, the characters and settings are fascinating.