Subjects Freshman Year Reading African American Studies African Studies American Studies Anthropology Art, Film, Music and Architecture Asian Studies Business and Economics Criminology Education Environmental Studies Foreign Language Instructional Materials Gender Studies History Irish Studies Jewish Studies Latin American & Caribbean Studies Law and Legal Studies Literature and Drama Literature in Spanish Media Issues, Journalism and Communication Middle East Studies Native American Studies Philosophy Political Science Psychology Reference Religion Russian and Eastern European Studies Science and Mathematics Sociology Study Aids

E-Newsletters: Click here to be notified of new titles in your field
Click here to request Desk/Exam copies
Freshman Year Reading
View Our Award Winners
Click here to view our Catalogs
Nine Lives

Nine Lives

Upgrade to the Flash 9 viewer for enhanced content, including the ability to browse & search through your favorite titles.
Click here to learn more!

Order Exam Copy
E-Mail this Page Print this Page
Add This - Nine Lives

Written by William DalrympleAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by William Dalrymple

  • Format: Hardcover, 304 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf
  • On Sale: June 15, 2010
  • Price: $26.95
  • ISBN: 978-0-307-27282-9 (0-307-27282-6)
Also available as an eBook and a trade paperback.
about this book

From the author of The Last Mughal (“A compulsively readable masterpiece”—The New York Review of Books), a mesmerizing book that explores how traditional religions are observed in today’s India, revealing ways of life that we might otherwise never have known.

A middle-class woman from Calcutta finds unexpected fulfillment living as a Tantric in an isolated, skull-filled cremation ground . . . A prison warder from Kerala is worshipped as an incarnate deity for two months of every year . . . A Jain nun tests her powers of detachment watching her closest friend ritually starve herself to death . . . The twenty-third in a centuries-old line of idol makers struggles to reconcile with his son’s wish to study computer engineering . . . An illiterate goatherd keeps alive in his memory an ancient 200,000-stanza sacred epic . . . A temple prostitute, who resisted her own initiation into sex work, pushes her daughters into the trade she nonetheless regards as a sacred calling.

William Dalrymple tells these stories, among others, with expansive insight and a spellbinding evocation of remarkable circumstance, giving us a dazzling travelogue of both place and spirit.

“Throughout the book, Dalrymple showcases his knowledge of the breadth of India and his fearless willingness to penetrate its sometimes unsavory nooks and crannies, rendering this a truly heartfelt work for readers craving a deeper connection to India and its rich spiritual heritage. A remarkable feat of journalism.” —Kirkus Reviews

“It is the singular achievement of Dalrymple, in his strikingly chaste and selfless book, to give us the lives and voices of some regular Indian and Pakistani worshippers without judgment, speculation or high-flown abstraction . . . He brings a powerful restraint and clarity to precisely the two subjects–India and faith–that cause most observers to fly off into cosmic vagueness or spleen. The result is a deeply respectful and sympathetic portrait of those modest souls seldom mentioned in the headlines. ‘How can we contrive to be at once astonished at the world and yet at home in it?’ G.K. Chesterton wrote at the beginning of his book Orthodoxy. In Nine Lives, Dalrymple and his subjects give us an answer.” —Pico Iyer, Time

“William Dalrymple’s triumphant return to travel writing not only illuminates India’s relationship with religion but casts the genre itself in a new light . . . A wise and rewarding book fizzing with Dalrymple’s signature erudition and lightness of touch . . . The travel book of the year.” —Rory MacLean, Guardian

“Dalrymple vividly evokes the lives of these men and women, with the sharp eye and good writing that we have come to expect of his extraordinary travel books about India and his histories. But Nine Lives is different from his other works; it is not so much about places as about the religious lives of people who live in those places, and is a glorious mixture of journalism, anthropology, history, and history of religions, written in prose worthy of a good novel . . . Not since Kipling has anyone evoked village India so movingly . . . The book gives an answer to Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and those who would condemn all religions for the sake of the fanatical fringe.” —Wendy Doniger, Times Literary Supplement

“Dalrymple’s latest book, Nine Lives, elegantly proves his point [that] travel writing is invaluable.” —Amy Yee, Wall Street Journal

“I cannot imagine anyone writing more perceptively about the intermingling of the religious and the secular in contemporary India than Dalrymple does in Nine Lives . . . It is an index of Dalrymple’s ability as a writer and his complex immersion in Indian cultures that he deftly avoids [the pitfalls of Orientalism] . . . This is a rich book, teeming with fascinating characters and places worth visiting; it is a travel book that takes the reader not only across the wide expanse of the Indian subcontinent but also into intriguing aspects of India’s past and present.” —Tabish Khair, Biblio

“William Dalrymple is now well established as India’s literary ‘Orientalist,’ interpreting its historical intricacies for a generation of international readers . . . Nine Lives is one of his most ambitious yet, taking the reader into lurid, scarcely imaginable worlds of mysticism . . . The nine lives of the title are touching, otherworldly personal vignettes . . . Dalrymple has an inimitable way of conjuring the Indian landscape and its colourful religious practices. With the eye of someone who has lived on and off in Delhi for nearly two decades, one of his greatest charms is his observation of India’s combination of the sacred and the mundane . . . Dalrymple, as always, impresses with his scholarliness. He explains the religious context of his subjects with erudition. Just as he brought to life Mughal emperors in his earlier work, he delights here in his descriptions of Sufi fakirs, Shaivite sadhus and sadhana, or Tantric rites. Yet it is always the human story that triumphs.” —James Lamont, Financial Times

“The journey of intermingled faiths and lives remains surprising and delightful . . . Dalrymple the historian knows the forces that make religions and ethnicities fight; Dalrymple the journalist has described that violence; but Dalrymple the travel writer lets these nine people speak.” —Salil Tripathi, Independent

“This is travel writing at its best . . . It is also a series of biographies which unpick the rich religious heritage of the subcontinent . . . A character burns for a chapter and then becomes a memory, restless and unforgettable, as we turn to the next life . . . That this book also makes its political points more powerfully than any newspaper article, while quietly adjusting a reader’s attitude to faith, builds its importance . . . Display[s] a deep knowledge of the culture, yet is intimate with each interviewee.” —Ruaridh Nicoll, Observer

“Impressively honest. . . Dalrymple reconstructs the testimony [of these nine people] brilliantly, without apparent contrivance of condescension. It is no small achievement . . . The reader relishes the resultant sense of immediacy and conviction.” —John Keay, Literary Review

“Thought-provoking . . . Nine Lives is a departure from Dalrymple’s previous style [and] a success . . . The stories of the nine diverse characters he documents may be non-fiction but the accounts are no less compelling. They artfully tackle the precarious issue of spiritualism in modern India . . . A beautiful, emotionally complex collection of stories which combine to offer a sensitive insight into modern Indian and how it is reconciling staggering economic growth with some of the most ancient religious traditions in the world.” —Nathalie Thomas, Scotland on Sunday

“A new book by William Dalrymple is always a cause for celebration.” —Metro

“Exemplarily self-effacing [but] Dalrymple’s characteristic wit and sympathy are fully evident, as are his love and knowledge of the sub-continent . . . A fascinating book [with] anecdotes that beautifully illustrate the relationship between tradition and modernity in India.” —Lewis Jones, Spectator

“Dalrymple’s search takes him well off spiritual tourism’s beaten track, and this is what makes Nine Lives so interesting . . . A timely book.” —Ned Denny, Evening Standard

“Any of these stories could make a great film or play, they are so full of passion, tragedy, violence, compassion, and religious fervor, and so vividly evoked; we hear these men and women telling their own amazing stories and are swept up by them. Who could resist them? These are people banished from their families or castes, or destroyed by interreligious and political violence, who find love and community in bands of religious ecstatics. Their human concerns, not unlike ours, melt seamlessly into the bizarre, almost unimaginable circumstances of their ritual life, and eventually we see that that, too, is quite human, that there is nothing weird at all about drinking warm blood or pulling out your hair by the roots. Only a brilliant writer like Dalrymple could bring off this astonishing and unprecedented revelation of the humanity of people on the farthest extremes of religious ecstasy.” –Wendy Doniger, Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions in the Divinity School, South Asian Languages & Civilizations at the University of Chicago; andauthor of The Hindus: An Alternative History

“Historian-travel writer Dalrymple knows his Asian subcontinent. . . . Dalrymple has a good eye, a better ear, and the humility to get out of the way of his subjects. . . . An ambitious and affectionate book that respects popular religion.” —Publishers Weekly (starred)

“Compelling and accessible to all readers. . . . Readers will sense the power of faith underlying the divergent religious paths, with stories that are enthralling and will keep them up late reading.” —Ravi Shenoy, Library Journal (starred)

“Through the stories of nine people, told simply and powerfully, Dalrymple unpicks the diversity and complexity of religious belief and spiritual practice in the subcontinent, while underscoring the fragility of some of these unique traditions in a rapidly modernizing country. Like Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, Nine Lives presents a wonderful pageant of believers whose stories are as much about spirituality as about society . . . Writing about religion and spirituality in India can be fraught with the dangers of misunderstanding and eroticization, as the author himself has noted. Dalrymple, a scholar of religion and Indian history who has been living near Delhi for many years, avoids these minefields in part by leaving it to his subjects to speak for themselves . . . It’s a technique unusual in American nonfiction narrative, but one that serves its subjects beautifully.” —Vaishnavi Chandrashekhar, Christian Science Monitor

“Dalrymple conveys the details of everyday worship and fulfills that hoary cliché of giving voice to the voiceless . . . Nine Lives shows us lives hidden almost entirely from Western readers . . . Such books open up the world in a compelling way.” —Robert Messenger, Wall Street Journal

“Dalrymple’s account of these Indian pilgrims is informed, compassionate, and careful to place the emphasis where it belongs: on the extraordinary people whose stories he conveys. His long study of India and his years of living there have given him access to characters that a casual visitor could never hope to meet. . . . Dalrymple’s subjects, though links in an ancient chain, are not sealed in shamanistic amber.” —Benjamin Moser, Harper’s

Nine Lives is not only a masterful text, but it is also an extraordinarily important book. . . . Simply as stories, each discrete episode is an emotive and moving tale of how an individual found, or inherited, a path to spiritual dedication .. . . But often, these nine lives capture larger issues or trends, beyond the specificity of each individual’s story. . . . India’s pluralistic religious traditions will continue to swirl, subside, and sometimes surge. And Nine Lives has made that water more clear.” —Jonathan Sidhu, San Francisco Chronicle

“A fascinating new book. . . . These might seem like exotic characters, but Dalrymple allows them to tell their own stories, and they emerge as deeply sympathetic and human. . . . He’s succeeded brilliantly.” —Tom Beer, Newsday

Nine Lives fulfills the premise that a master artist can make something very difficult look easy. The transparent prose reminded me of the great American nonfiction writer Tracy Kidder’s work–not because the two authors are stylistically similar, but because they both excel in distilling complex material into a narrative that anyone reasonably literate can understand and appreciate. . . . Every page of Nine Lives is infused with Dalrymple’s years of labor in the vineyards of political, historical, and religious research. . . . Even skeptical readers will be hard-pressed to ignore the great comfort and inspiration these practitioners of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam take from their daily worship. You don’t have to know a thing about India to enjoy this book, but when you’re done you will know and appreciate much more about its people and their various lives–of the body, of the spirit, and of the heart.” —Mary Ann Gwinn, Seattle Times

“Dalrymple brilliantly narrates the lives of nine people. . . . In a number of compelling stories, Dalrymple’s first-rate book pulls back the curtain on modern Indian society and reveals how deeply the spiritual is etched in people’s lives and the creative ways in which these people are adapting their religious practices to momentous and rapid social changes.” —Henry L. Carrigan Jr., Bookpage

“Absorbing. . . . Dalrymple’s major works on Indian history were preceded by travel books, and in Nine Lives, his gifts converge to evoke both the texture of his subjects’ homelands–from the Rajasthani desert to the wetlands of Kerala—and the complex past from which their faiths emerge. . . . The narratives Dalrymple unearths are fascinating and sometimes painfully moving, and he surrounds them with generous knowledge. This is the India we seldom see, populated by obscure people whose lives are made vivid by their eloquent troubles and reckless piety.” —Colin Thubron, New York Times Book Review

“As William Dalrymple shows in his strikingly colorful new book, to be Indian is to inhabit a carnival of strangely colliding worlds, a profusion of identities with sharply defined regional variants. Nowhere is this more evident than in the country’s spiritual life. . . . Nine Lives is a collection of portraits depicting nine worshipers who practice wildly different forms of devotion in a vortex of dizzying change. Part travelogue, part reportage, part anthropology, the book hews to a theme that has long fascinated Dalrymple: how cultures in peril survive. It’s a subject he knows well. . . . His point—which he makes elegantly by quoting many voices—is that, as India hurtles toward modernity, it may be losing some of its soul.” —Marie Arana, Washington Post