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The award-winning author Amit Chaudhuri has been widely praised for the beauty and subtle power of his writing and for the ways in which he makes “place” as complex a character as his men and women. Now he brings these gifts to a spellbinding amalgam of memoir, reportage, and history in this intimate, luminous portrait of Calcutta.
Chaudhuri guides us through the city where he was born, the home he loved as a child, the setting of his acclaimed novels—a place he now finds captivating for all the ways it has, and, perhaps more powerfully, has not, changed. He shows us a city relatively untouched by the currents of globalization but possessed of a “self-renewing way of seeing, of inhabiting space, of apprehending life.” He takes us along vibrant avenues and derelict alleyways; introduces us to intellectuals, Marxists, members of the declining haute bourgeoisie, street vendors, domestic workers; brings to life the city’s sounds and smells, its architecture, its traditional shops and restaurants, new malls and hotels. And, using the historic elections of 2011 as a fulcrum, Chaudhuri looks back to the nineteenth century, when the city burst with a new vitality, and toward the politics of the present, finding a city “still not recovered from history” yet possessed of a singular modernity.
Chaudhuri observes and writes about Calcutta with rare candor and clarity, making graspable the complex, ultimately ineluctable reasons for his passionate attachment to the place and its people.
“Worth the wait. . . . [A] seductively simple style. . . . Fascinating. . . . The range of angles from which he approaches [Calcutta] gives the book great depth. . . . It succeeds brilliantly in making sense of a place few of us can know. . . . I was so immersed in the world Chaudhuri has created that I was surprised, when I looked up, to find that I was still in London and not among the crumbling mansions of what had been one of the empire’s greatest cities.” —Anthony Sattin, The Observer
“Like V.S. Naipaul before him, Chaudhuri weaves his reportage with bibliographic allusions (Elizabeth Bishop, Rudyard Kipling) and excels at revealing the spirit of his chosen place. . . . Wonderfully rendered. . . . Brilliant . . . Calcutta, a sweet-sour meditation [that] memorably portrays the triumphs and travails of a ‘monstrous, unprecedented metropolis.’. . . Wise and subtle, Chaudhuri wears his erudition lightly and weaves personal anecdote into enduring reportage.” —Ian Thompson, The Telegraph
“Chaudhuri’s highly personal preoccupations provide an insight into how Calcutta is attempting to adapt to globalization. The essays add up to a warm, vivid and often humorous portrait of his birthplace.” —Ian Critchley, The Sunday Times (London)
“Chaudhuri maintains his novelist’s eye and ear for Calcutta’s character and citizens. He combines the serendipity of the flâneur with the sensitivity of the social historian.” —Iain Finlayson, The Times (London)
“Dazzling prose. . . . The strangeness in the everyday and the extraordinary in the ordinary is wonderfully drawn out. . . . Chaudhuri captures the pulse of the here and now while also excavating it to reveal the forces that have shaped the city. . . . His masterful prose style lingers on the tiny, quotidian details and draws out their significance. . . . Calcutta certainly transforms the way one looks at things, and as I walk back out into the swirl of Mayfair, I begin to notice details that had previously slipped me by, the hidden beauty in the everyday urban chaos now everywhere apparent.” —Anita Sethi, The Sunday Herald (Scotland)
“Chaudhuri’s Calcutta is about what’s at hand, but also inescapably about memory. . . . The city comes alive not in sweeping narratives of what it was and what it has become, but through carefully constructed vignettes.” —Budhaditya Bhattacharya, The Hindu
“Chaudhuri walks the talk. His book makes the very convergences he asks his city to make: of high culture and pop, of arrabiata and Jhaalmuri, of criticism and compassion. He slices through the urban maze with the precision of a chef holding a kitchen knife and the absorption of a vocalist holding a note to reveal the soul of his city. His book. Glowing with familiarity and insight, and delicious as taal fritters, milk pithés and besan-fried home-grown pumpkin flowers, is the best meal a writer can cook for his city.” —Saikat Chakraborty, Northeast Review (India)
“Chaudhuri has created a distinct, adjacent position of his own in Indian literature. He is not part of a group or trend, and appears to have ingested the significance of postcolonial theory without showing any interest in running along its tramlines. . . . Chaudhuri’s writing has a strangely mesmeric quality. . . . At its best it reads like Sebald or Naipaul in A Way in the World. . . . Chaudhuri’s prose displays an ability amounting to brilliance for finding the right words to catch an emotion, a thought, a personality.” —Patrick French, Financial Times
“A perceptive, beautifully written and often wry portrait of Calcutta. . . . He couldn’t have done better.” —Soumya Bhattacharya, Hindustan Times