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R. K. Narayan (1906—2001) witnessed nearly a century of change in his native India and captured it in fiction of uncommon warmth and vibrancy. The four novels collected here, all written during British rule, bring colonial India into intimate focus through the narrative gifts of this master of literary realism.
Swami and Friends introduces us to Narayan’s beloved fictional town of Malgudi, where ten-year-old Swaminathan’s excitement about his country’s initial stirrings for independence competes with his ardor for cricket and all other things British. The Bachelor of Arts is a poignant coming-of-age novel about a young man flush with first love, but whose freedom to pursue it is hindered by the fixed ideas of his traditional Hindu family. In The Dark Room, Narayan’s portrait of aggrieved domesticity, the docile and obedient Savitri, like many Malgudi women, is torn between submitting to her husband’s humiliations and trying to escape them. The title character in The English Teacher, Narayan’s most autobiographical novel, searches for meaning when the death of his young wife deprives him of his greatest source of happiness.
These pioneering novels, luminous in their detail and refreshingly free of artifice, are a gift to twentieth-century literature.
“There are writers–Tolstoy and Henry James to name two–whom we hold in awe, writers–Turgenev and Chekhov–for whom we feel a personal affection, other writers whom we respect–Conrad for example–but who hold us at a long arm’s length with their ‘courtly foreign grace.’ Narayan (whom I don’t hesitate to name in such a context) more than any of them wakes in me a spring of gratitude, for he has offered me a second home. Without him I could never have known what it is like to be Indian.” –Graham Greene
“[The English Teacher is] an idyll as delicious as anything I have met in modern literature for a long time. The atmosphere and texture of happiness, and, above all, its elusiveness, have seldom been so perfectly transcribed.” –Elizabeth Bowen
“Narayan’s humour and compassion come from a deep universal well, with the result that he has transformed his imaginary township of Malgudi into a bubbling parish of the world.” –The Observer
“The first writer of his kind…A more accurate guide to modern India than the intellectually more ambitious writers of recent years.” –Pankaj Mishra, The New York Review of Books.